Alice by Judith Hermann

Alice by Judith Hermann

German fiction (short stories)

Translator – Margot Bettauer Dembo

Judith Hermann is from Berlin ,she grew up there studied German and philosophy ,work at German newspaper as an intern after that .The got a grant from the Berlin Academy of art to live in Alfred Doblin house ,she then published her first collection summer-house ,this Alice is her third collection and is darker than her earlier works .Judith Hermann is part of the new wave of female german writer like Julie Zeh AND Jenny Erpenbeck .Alice made the longlist for the independent foreign fiction prize and is from the new press The Clerkenwell Press  first collection which is an imprint of Profile books .

So what is Alice about well it is a collection of five short stories ,rather like the collections from Kauzo Ishiguro and Cees Nooteboom in the last couple of years these are theme stories but also all contain the same person Alice ,the theme is death  so maybe it is a composite novel of interlinking stories ,but these two recent short story collections sprung to my mind straight after reading the book .We see how Alice is effected by these deaths and the deaths are of people she is connected with the first few are friends ,some she really isn’t that close to then by the fourth story Malte her gay uncle and lastly her own husband and how she deals after he suddenly died  .I must admit I wasn’t overly bowled over by this collection ,I found the first there stories very similar in tone Alice was there some one died ,the writing is beautiful but I felt the first three stories were very similar in tone and feel also other than place Alice as the heroine ,friend and a little bit about her as a person ,as the first three men die ,Misha is dying zweribruken with his wife and children Alice is there to help ,then a couple she vaguely knows in Italy invite her to stay  and lastly a friend in berlin as he knows his death is impeding planning out what happens during and after his death she visits him and his wife  .

The last time she visited richard and Margaret she’d brought peonies at this same stand ,having first thought about it for a long time .Seven peonies please ,and don’t add anything ,an uneven number a superstition ,five were to few and she didn’t have enough money for nine .

Details is something Hermann does well like this thought on buying flowers .



I just wasn’t  very inspired by this collection ,I m not sure if that is at moment or it’ll be one of those books that six months down the line I ll go yes I get it  totally and what Judith Hermann was trying to do . As an insight into death and coping with it’S aftermath it is well written the way every one copes those stages of grief  as something I ve dealt with via work for over twenty years  I struggled to connect with Hermann’s vision and using  Alice as the motif through the stories   thou we do see her interact with the dying , bereaved and her own grief  ,she never leaped of the pages as a character for me to connect with .I felt she was just there to drive the stories not be built on as a character in herself  I know it is come in short stories for us to know little of the character other tha the situation we meet them in ,I just felt Alice’s character maybe need some more filling out .I must admit Dembo has done a wonderful job in translation as Hermann’s writing is beautiful in parts she has a real eye for details that was enough to keep me going to the end ,in parts remind me a little in the skeleton prose of Carver and Cheever  .Those thin slices they brought to life so well  ,in this case it is death we’re dealing with but unlike carver and Cheever Hermann just hasn’t hooked this reader yet .I will try her other books at some point .Oh I must admit this is strange my first slightly negative review but that is beauty of reading a longlist like the Independent foreign fiction prize you get to try books you may not normally try out  books out of your comfort zone and this book fell into both these categorises

Have you read this book ? 

March 2012


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