Author: Max Frisch
Description: Is everything in life a coincidence, or are things predestined for us? How much do the decisions that we make in life influence the outcome?, even down to the smallest of details?. For globe-trotting Walter Faber this is a conflict that is never really resolved, through the misadventures of a strange semi mid-life crisis, Frisch writes a poignant and sometimes shocking novel as Faber struggles to maintain his previously unwavering belief in technology, whilst human connections both past and present start to send his perfectly controlled existence spiraling out of his control.
The narrator, Walter Faber, a Swiss bachelor heading towards fifty, is an analytical, headstrong but somewhat misanthropic individual, who’s life is about to seriously land him on the ropes. A man of science, heading to South America on business to do with a project involving turbines. Unfortunately for him, his plane making an emergency landing in the Mexican desert was not part of the plan, and from here on in, bizarrely, Faber would face some uncanny happenings, after first of all finding his old friend Joachim dead in the jungle (the husband of Hanna, his childhood sweetheart). Later he would fall in love with a young lady, the dynamic Sabeth, whilst traveling across the Atlantic on board a ship destined for Europe (not knowing she is actually his daughter who he had with Hanna). After spending time in Italy together, an accident in Athens would bring Hanna back into Faber’s life, leaving him torn between guilt and love amidst the ruins of his own fate.
This has the feeling of an existential work certainly, but this novel is of greater depth when dealing with the unusual predicaments Faber finds himself in. There is an air of precision and efficiency in Frisch’s writing, the restrained, repetition and rhythm combined with shifts forward and back in time create a remarkable tension. The pragmatic Faber is spare, unromantic and sometimes damn right obnoxious, a character who engenders empathy, and as the forces that be conspire against him, you can’t help feel for the poor man, as of all the people on the planet (this being the 50’s so the population would have been smaller than today, but even still!) he falls for the one person he shouldn’t have. But he slowly starts to reveal a humanistic side not seen before, he is obliged to admit that he has found himself caught in a flood of coincidences, and dwindling to hold to this as an excuse to absolve his part in the tragedy that ultimately unfolds. At least until that is no longer possible.
With respect to the women, (they basically hold the key to the stories progression) Frisch intentionally places very strong, independent women in his protagonist’s line of sight, and they are the women who hold the deepest attraction for him. my only problem (that wasn’t really a problem, just something to get used to) was the long paragraphs of animated description, broken by single stark statement, set alone, which at first I found irritating but this didn’t affect the flow of the narrative significantly. As for Faber, there is one line I will never forget, where he describes the towering skyscrapers of New York as ‘Tombstones’, this being decades before 9/11, in a sinister kind of way, it makes sense now.
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