Family, obsession, and privilege boiled down by the icy-hot Swiss-Italian master stylist Fleur Jaeggy
Even among Fleur Jaeggy’s singular and intricate works, The Water Statues is a shiningly peculiar book. Concerned with loneliness and wealth’s odd emotional poverty, this early novel is in part structured as a play: the dramatis personae include the various relatives, friends, and servants of a man named Beeklam, a wealthy recluse who keeps statues in his villa’s flooded basement, where memories shiver in uncertain light and the waters run off to the sea.
Dedicated to Ingeborg Bachmann and fleshed out with Jaeggy’s austere yet voluptuous style, The Water Statues—with its band of deracinated, loosely related souls (milling about as often in the distant past as in the mansion’s garden full of intoxicated snails)—delivers like a slap an indelible picture of the swampiness of family life.
In this strange and shimmering nonlinear text from Swiss writer Jaeggy (I Am the Brother of XX), the lonely children of the wealthy and their eccentric employees negotiate the boundary between companionship and solitude. In Amsterdam, Beeklam grows up with only his father, Reginald, after the death of his mother, Thelma. Reginald never remarries and lives in seclusion with his servant, Lampe, a man curiously similar to him: "the two men had hardly met but were in perfect agreement, two finicky little plants," Jaeggy observes. As an adult, Beeklam stocks the basement of his house with statues and spends more and more time with them, "losing control of the hours and of life." Beeklam, too, has only one companion: his servant, Victor. After Reginald, at 70, suddenly leaves his house and abandons Lampe, Lampe goes to work for Kaspar, another widower who was a friend of Thelma's. Through this new connection to Kaspar and a child who lives with him and may be Kaspar's daughter, Beeklam and Victor's small universe grows a little larger. In short, enjoyably expressionistic sections, Jaeggy sketches the emotional lives of people marooned but not content to remain entirely alone. What emerges is a fascinating and memorable portrait of a milieu obsessed with the passing of time.