The Sweet Indifference of the World
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE SEASON BY VOGUE
In this alluring, melancholic novel—Peter Stamm at his best—a writer haunted by his double blurs the line between past and present, fiction and reality, in his attempt to outrun the unknown.
“Please come to Skogskyrkogården tomorrow at 2. I have a story I want to tell you.” Lena agrees to Christoph's out-of-the-blue request, though the two have never met. In Stockholm's Woodland Cemetery, he tells her his story, which is also somehow hers. Twenty years before, he loved a woman named Magdalena—an actress like Lena, with her looks, her personality, her past. Their breakup inspired him to write his first novel, about the time they were together, and in its scenes Lena recognizes the uncanny, intimate details of her own relationship with an aspiring writer, Chris.
Is it possible that she and Chris are living the same lives as Magdalena and Christoph two decades apart? Are they headed towards the same scripted separation? Or, in the fever of writing, has Christoph lost track of what is real and what is imagined?
In this subtle, kaleidoscopic tale, Peter Stamm exposes a fundamental human yearning: to beat life's mysteries by forcing answers on questions that have yet to be fully asked.
Swiss novelist Stamm (To the Back of Beyond) ruminates on fictions of the past and the recursive nature of time in this excellent doppelganger tale. Cristoph, a successful Swiss writer living in Stockholm, notices an actor with a startling resemblance to his ex-girlfriend and, after following her, sends a note to her hotel room: "Please come to the forest cemetery tomorrow, two p.m. I have a story to tell." The actor, Lena, is unnerved that Cristoph divulges intimate details about her life and the work of her aspiring novelist boyfriend, Chris. As the two walk through Stockholm, Cristoph tells Lena of a time when he returned to his home village and stayed in a hotel where he used to work as a night porter. When he arrived late, the porter on duty was "like looking into a mirror." As Cristoph unspools his theory about Lena being a doppelg nger for his former girlfriend, Magdelena (who was also an actor), this amorphous tale folds in on itself, becoming a meditation on how memory can distort reality: "It's like having a play put on by several directors. The scenes look different, even the words can be changed or cut, but the action follows its unvarying course." Fans of Julian Barnes will love this.