Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Tom McCarthy

By posted at 11:00 am on December 13, 2010 2

cover

coverThe best book I’ve read this year, by a long chalk, is Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina. It’s been something of a revelation. She published it in 1971: it was meant to be the first of a trilogy, but she died, pretty young and in odd circumstances, before getting the other two down. It’s hard to describe: nothing really happens in it. Maybe a woman dies, maybe not. It’s set in Vienna – but a massively overdetermined Vienna in which all of history, with all its attendant traumas, is┬ábreaking through the surface of the present. It’s structured almost musically, with motifs quasi-repeating, or echoing on several ‘channels’ as it were: so in a typical sequence we pan from a chessboard to maps and atlases, with place names – Venice, the Danube – reeling off; then the narrative opens to a vision of wars over territory, humanity displaced and starving; then back to the game.

The second section (it has a kind of triptych structure) is a phantasmagoric interlude to rival the “Circe” chapter of Ulysses: passages to hell, gas chambers, murderous fathers right out of Plath, whole cemetaries of dead daughters – all the while remaining within the Ringstrasse and its polite confines. Bachmann, it turns out, was a friend of Celan, Frisch, Boll, Grass – the whole gaggle of important German-language writers of her period. And she outshines the lot of them – except Celan, of course, but that’s all-but impossible. Apparently she and he had an intense correspondence which has survived: something to look forward to in 2011 if I can get my hands on it!

More from a Year in Reading 2010

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions





Share this article

More from the Millions

2 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Tom McCarthy”

  1. Steve Mitchelmore
    at 4:43 pm on December 13, 2010

    Bachmann was a close friend of the greatest German-language writer of the post-war era: Thomas Bernhard. Surprised Tom didn’t know that. She appears as Maria in his greatest novel, Extinction.

    And the Celan-Bachmann correspondence was published in translation this Summer. They were more than friends. I reviewed it here: http://this-space.blogspot.com/2010/08/stepping-into-poem-celan-bachmann.html

  2. 8 Years in Reading: an Interview with C. Max Magee of The Millions | The Outlet: the Blog of Electric Literature
    at 9:17 am on December 16, 2011

    [...] Romans. Sam Lipsyte on the obscure writer Hob Broun, Helen Dewitt on Edward Tufte. Tom McCarthy on Ingeborg Bachmann, Joshua Cogen on C.M. Doughty, and – maybe my all time favorite entry ever – book [...]

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.