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On Spoiling "The Weight of Things" [RTWBC]

I’m struggling with what to write about The Weight of Things for this week. Initially, I thought we’d have an interview with the translator ready by this point, but I suck at time management . . . Besides, what could I possible add after this interview between Adrian Nathan West and Kate Zambreno?

BLVR: Reviewers also love labels. Even Kafka being called a “Walserian” type when his Meditation came out. Although, I have just finished The Tanners, so I was really thinking of Walser when reading The Weight of Things. I thought of Jelinek too, for the archetypes and word play, and this sense of a domestic gothic that’s haunted by the war and atrocity and violence.

ANW: Walser’s a magnificent writer. But so sensitive. I think Fritz in The Weight of Things is quite cruel.

BLVR: For me with Walser it was the syntax of Fritz’s novel, the slipperiness of it, the way she went in backwards with things, if that makes sense, the humor that is seemingly polite and servile yet has that nastiness underneath.

ANW: That’s a lovely way to describe his humor. Yes, the syntax in The Weight of Things does have—and this is something Walser has in common with Kafka—that feinting quality, of saying something only to retract it halfway through.

BLVR: I thought of The Weight of Things as a work in miniature, which seems so distinct from the rest of her work. Does the book explore her later themes?

ANW: The axis is always the same: war, who bears the responsibility for it, who suffers the consequences. The first book picks away the plaster, while the later ones dig deeper and deeper until they finally end up in a kind of parallel world. The themes and settings are the same throughout: Vienna, Przemyśl, etc. Fictional places recur, too: the mother of the family in Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst ends up in the same asylum as Berta in The Weight of Things, the same town, counties, and streets appear, and so on.

I’m also struggling with the issue of what to discuss at this point in time when several of the people I know are still reading this and have yet to reach the real emotional crux of the novel. Usually, I’m of the mindset that spoilers don’t really matter, that one should enjoy books for how their written more so than plot details, I think that’s all bullshit when it comes to talking about books in a “book club” sort of setting. That’s especially true in a book like this with such a dark, emotionally brutal reveal . . .

So I don’t necessarily want to write about my reactions to the book just yet. Maybe next week, after the month is technically over, and anyone deciding to participate in this book club idea will have had the maximum amount of time to read it.

What would be even better though is to post reactions from readers to the book. So, if you are reading it and have some thoughts or reactions, just email them to me, post them in the comments below, share them on Twitter with #RTWBC, or post them in the Facebook group.

Lizzy Siddal actually posted her write up there, and since it’s pretty much spoiler free, I feel OK about sharing it now.

Of all the events of 1945, there was one Wilhelmine recalled with particular painful clarity. Wilhelm has hung the necklace with the tiny Madonna around Berta_’s neck, not hers._

A case of sibling rivalry you might think, nothing to worry about, except that Wilhelmine soon establishes herself as the most vicious and relentless pursuer of her own objectives ever to cross my reading path. Even so, when years later, she finally gets her hands on that necklace, it is an act so callous and calculated, it takes the breathe away, and earns her the title of villainess of the piece.

This necklace—introduced in the first sentence of the novel—really is the MacGuffin of the whole novel. Berta receives it from Wilhelm, and Wilhelmine wants it for herself. The rest of the novel is centered around her plan to take it from Berta. It’s great when a relatively simple narrative motor like that can be expanded into a much larger, more textured narrative.

One of the other things that stands out about this book—and is the reason behind my hesitation to say too much about the book—is how backloaded the plot is. The really crucial information about Berta—what was her relationship with Wilhelm? why is she in this creepy hospital?—is withheld until the end and is a bit of gut punch when it happens.

Looking at the notes I wrote down in my phone while reading this (I don’t have the book with me today, which makes writing this extra tricky) I think the real winner is: “Fuck is this book dark and hurtful.” I think I remember exactly what I read before typing that. (Spoiler: It has to do with Berta’s kids talking to her.)

Anyway, send us your comments! We’ll talk about them on the podcast, here on the blog, etc.



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