Maybe This TimeAlois Hotschnig
A spellbinding short story collection by one of Austria’s most critically acclaimed authors.
A man becomes obsessed with observing his neighbours. A large family gathers for Christmas only to wait for the one member who never turns up. An old woman lures a man into her house, where he finds dolls resembling himself as a boy. Mesmerizing and haunting stories about loss of identity in the modern world.
GUARDIAN PAPERBACK OF THE YEAR 2011
Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
I love Kafka and here we have a Kafkaesque sense of alienation – not to mention narrative experiments galore! Outwardly normal events slip into drama before they tip into horror. These oblique tales exert a fascinating hold over the reader.
Written by Alois Hotschnig.
Translated from the Austrian German by Tess Lewis.
Male Dilemma Series
110pp, Paperback with Flaps, £8.99
Published September 2011
Alois Hotschnig, born in 1959, is one of Austria’s most critically acclaimed authors, eliciting comparison with Franz Kafka and Thomas Bernhard. He has written novels, short stories and plays. His books have won major Austrian and International honours, such as the Italo-Svevo award and the Erich-Fried nomination. Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht was first published in German in 2006.
Tess Lewis has been translating from German and French for two decades. For her translations of Peter Handke, Alois Hotschnig, Pascale Bruckner and Philippe Sollers she has been awarded PEN Translation Fund grants and an NEA Translation Fellowship.
‘Not since Julio Cortázar’s game of Hopscotch … has an author so daringly undertaken to challenge the reader.’ Amanda Hopkinson, The Independent
‘Hotschnig’s stories have the weird, creepy and ambiguous quality of disturbing dreams. .. It is, though, very refreshing to be confronted by stories which so firmly refuse to yield to conventional interpretation.’ Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
‘This award-winning collection by the Austrian writer Alois Hotschnig drew comparisons with Kafka. But Hotschnig’s quietly terrifying voice is all his own.’ Daily Mail
‘What one takes away from these delicately written, almost dreamlike snapshots, lucidly translated from Austrian German by Tess Lewis, is a vivid sense of life’s fragility.’ Lucy Popescu, Tribune Magazine
‘This little book is a triumph.’ New Books Magazine
Walter’s not coming. That would be fine with us if only our parents didn’t live in expectation of him. They constantly hope that he might just show up, that when we get together at their place again, the whole family might just be there, all of us, as if we did in fact belong together, as if we were a whole, one more time, or for the first time rather, because it hasn’t happened yet, not once.
When I visit them and suggest, as I did last time, that we all go to my sister’s house to celebrate her birthday, they’re delighted because nothing is more important to them than their children. So we agree to surprise my sister the following day, and then visit my brother, maybe even my other brother, if there’s enough time, since he lives a bit further away.
You know how much I like it when you are all together, Mother says, and tells me everything that has happened while I was gone, and we grow closer, become close even. After a while, however, she stops talking and remains quite still. Father says, Maybe it’s better if you two go and I stay at home. Maybe Walter will stop by tomorrow. And the next day we don’t go to my sister’s, since Mother doesn’t like to leave Father by himself and she doesn’t want to miss Uncle Walter, should he finally come, as she says. So they stay at home, in the house, and I stay with them. My sister comes to visit, to celebrate her birthday here, in our parents’ house, not at hers as she has wanted to do for decades.
One of them always used to stay at home. For as long as I can remember, they’ve never left the house together, and for some time now they haven’t even left separately, fearing that Walter might come and they wouldn’t be there.
If we want to see them, we have to go to their house, and we do. There are plenty of occasions: Father’s birthday, Mother’s, their anniversary, my brother’s birthday, my other brother’s birthday (the one who supposedly looks just like Uncle Walter), saints’ days, weddings and christenings, All Souls’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Yes, there are occasions enough and we observe them. From all directions, we make our way to our parents’ house.
Besides Walter, Father has another brother and a sister who come to every occasion, along with their sons and daughters, the cousins with their children, the nephews, my great-uncle, all of them. Well, not all of them, in fact, because Uncle Walter is always missing. The more he stays away, the more my parents long for him and the more stubborn their hope that this time, today, now, he could perhaps still come after all.
But Walter doesn’t come, at least not while we are there. We don’t make up for his absence, those of us who are present, and no matter how hard we try to distract them, to make them forget about Walter, it never works. The rest of us do count for something, but not enough compared with him, since Walter’s absence makes us all invisible in our parents’ eyes and in our own. Those who are missing are noticed, but only until they come through the door, join those who are waiting and disappear into the group. It’s always the same game, who’s there and who isn’t, how many are we now, and who might then still come and who not.
The names of the others are mentioned. Yet it’s only his name everybody thinks about. However, no one asks after him, on that we silently agreed a long time ago. Not a word is said about him. But eventually our parents start talking about him and then we speak of nothing but Walter.
In the house and in the garden, we sit together and wait, pretending that we aren’t waiting. We look at each other and try to talk to each other, pretending that this is enough. But it isn’t. And how could it be, waiting as we are for another, morning, noon, evening and into the night. Whether we don’t mention his name once or whether we speak of nothing but him, we wait, at each and every family gathering and also the days and weeks in between, through the years and decades that our family has been around. And should we, just once, manage to be together without a single thought of him, a mere look from one of us is enough to bring us all back to him, and to our parents, for whom, once again, our presence is not enough.
With our constant glances at the door, never intended for the one coming through it, but searching for the one who is not to be found, we simply tell one another, but no, you’re not Walter. It took me years before I could interpret these looks and understood that they had nothing to do with me, but with the one who was missing, always the one who was missing.
That’s how it was, and it’s no different now, and none of us could say why it was the way it was, the way it had to be, the way it is now. In this sense, we have always lived with Walter. We know him and don’t know him. The youngest of us, in fact, have never laid eyes on him. And when photos from our parents’ or another relative’s childhood are passed around at the gatherings, there is never any trace of Walter.
We know him from hearsay and from our parents’ stories and expectations and their invariably disappointed hopes, which have now become ours. Should a stranger come to the door or pass by a window, which happens often enough at our family gatherings, my nieces and nephews are taken aback and look at each other, checking to see if the stranger could be Uncle Walter, nodding inquiringly or shaking their heads. No, it’s not Uncle Walter, for whatever reason. Uncle Walter looks different, Uncle Walter is taller or shorter, depending, since each of us has our own image of Walter. But in all the stories he’s good-natured, well-meaning and attentive, and interested in all of us. That’s what they tell us. But we don’t believe it, just as when I was a child, for years I didn’t believe he even existed. But there is a Walter.
For Reading Groups
Tease your mind with our reading group questions for Maybe This Time:
1 How does the text create an atmosphere of unease? What is it about the writing that makes these stories so uncomfortable?
2 What are the roles played by female characters in the book?
3 How far can we trust the narrator in any of these stories?
4 What is the role of absence in the book? Does Hotschnig define his characters by what is not there, rather than what is?
5 Are these, as Hostchnig has suggested, ‘normal’ stories about ‘normal’ life? Can you see yourself in the protagonists’ shoes?
6 Two of the stories, ‘The Same Silence, The Same Noise’ and ‘The Light in My Room’ are set next to a lake, and water figures prominently in both. Why is this? Does the lake represent anything?
7 What happens to these stories on a second reading? Do they change, or does the reader change?
8 Dreams feature heavily in the stories, particularly ‘The Beginning of Something’. How appropriate is the term ‘dream-like’ to describe this book?
9 What is the role of children in the stories? How is their world contrasted with that of adults?
10 What impression of the natural (i.e. non-human) world do these stories leave us with? How do the human characters of this book reflect on the landscapes they are situated within, and vice versa?
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