I find reading Zweig like entering a crystal cave, a dark and secret place (make your own ‘gina jokes now, folks, this is a classy review). Talking about this collection, one novella and three short stories, I feel like I have to start at the end, with Anthea Bell’s afterword. So spoilers ahoy: Continue reading
A book that swoops and soars like the ocean, a bittersweet Cinderella story that brings in to clear focus the toll of poverty on the human condition. That’s an overwrought description, fair nuff, but Zweig tends to split readers – some of whom disdain him as a bog standard romanticist, and others who swoon over his rich language and big, fat, dramatic love stories. I read this book all a-twitter for it, and my heart raced along with that of Christine, the post office girl, who gets a respite from her daily grind by the largesse of a forgotten aunt.
There’s wonderful descriptions of both the rich and the poor in post-WWI Europe, and there’s a subtle layer of social description – I wouldn’t say critique, he’s not that heavy handed – of the working classes who suffered the war and then the ongoing hardships of the twenties. In turn, there’s some great fantasy material in the scenes set in a luxurious Swiss hotel, including the hands-down best makeover scene I’ve ever come across. It’s lovely that Zweig weighs the true measure of correct dress and hair and makeup to a woman’s social capital, and Christine’s joy when she beholds herself decked out by her rich aunt is something magic.
Spellbinding stuff, made that much more poignant by Zweig’s own sad fate. The manuscript wasn’t published in his lifetime but found after his suicide. It’s both a vision of human joy and despair and a very precise portrait of a lost time and place.
I have had two Zweig books sitting on my shelf patiently waiting for me, but it took this sexy new cover from Pushkin Press to get me to read the old master.
Look at it. That’s my favourite book jacket in yonks. I want to rub it all over my face (ok, I did rub it all over my face, as I got given a copy. Holla!)
And I promptly fell head-over-teakettle for Zweig’s writing. This is a collection of his short stories, two in the epistolary form, including the titular story – which was filmed by Max Ophüls with the luminous Joan Fontaine.
Rich and romantic, but never purple or overcooked, his stories are like vivid dreams. One is a dream, recounted for a lover, and love of all kinds is represented. He’s got a great insight into his female characters, and the words just drip with the atmosphere of a lost Europe – one with tragicomic actors, candlelit mournful rooms, big giant stonkingly starcrossed love affairs, with one eye on the inexorable march of time and the other on the more liquid inner workings of the soul.
A collection I clasped to my bosum and heaved over a couple of times. Definitely an author to awaken the romantic in even the most flinty heart (like muggins ‘ere writing this).