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 ? 

22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Caroline
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 18:12:59

    I read her two short story collections and loved them. They are some of the best stories I have read and then I got this too when it came out in Germany and was quite disappointed. It was somehow pointless and not memorable at all. I forgot it right after I finished it.


  2. markbooks
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 18:51:16

    I’ve read the first two so far, and I must admit this comment of yours sums it up perfectly: “Alice was there, someone died”. Made me laugh because it’s so true! Nothing seems especially wrong with it, just too lightweight for a Prize list.


  3. parrish lantern
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 19:08:45

    I must admit this was the least appealing of all the books based on the blurb etc. and going on the post & comments here it hasn’t got any more appealing.


  4. Sigrun
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 19:19:14

    I agree with Caroline, her two first books are far better than this one. “Summerhouse, later” (2001) is my favorite, its a beautiful book, well worth reading & re-reading.


  5. Jackie Bailey (@farmlanebooks)
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 20:45:03

    I almost want to read this – just so I can see why you don’t like a book! Shame it is short stories, otherwise I’d be straight there!


  6. Lisa Hill
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 08:38:40

    Reading your review made me think a bit more about it: especially the flat, dispassionate tone that I referred to in my review.
    It’s a bit of a long shot, (*chuckle* possibly clutching at straws!) but could it be that this detached tone is in some way alluding to the way some Germans feel that they have had to suppress their own grief about WW2 because of their culpability?


    • winstonsdad
      Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:27:23

      I m not sure if it is that deep lisa ,maybe something about germanys current place not sure just found it slightly annoying myself especially yhe books that missed the cut for this I imagine ,all the best stu


      • Lisa Hill
        Mar 27, 2012 @ 10:37:43

        Well, that’s the interesting thing. I’m not as widely read as you are in foreign fiction, but I find myself wondering, is this really one of the best?

      • winstonsdad
        Apr 01, 2012 @ 12:19:40

        me too lisa I think couple of books were better than this but the judges must have had there reasons ,all the best stu

  7. Tony
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 11:28:21

    This is merely a continuation of a worrying trend – nobody seems to have liked this so far (and I shelled out good money for a German-language version!). I hope I’ll be the one to get it…

    …it’ll have to go some to be bottom of my list though 😉


  8. JoV
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 12:00:23

    Sorry you didn’t like it. I would probably not like it as well. Better luck on the next short stories collection!


  9. Violet
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 09:06:22

    I read half of this before I decided I had better things to do with my time. The sentence fragments got on my nerves, and I really wish she had found some conjunctions and punctuation and joined the words together. I didn’t connect with the Alice character either. I suppose I should have ploughed on to the end, but I really didn’t like her writing style.


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March 2012


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