Thursday, 10 November 2016

Wasp Days by Erhard von Buren

Wasp Days by Erhard von Buren
First published in German in Switzerland as Wespenzeit by Rotpunktverlag in 2000. English translation by Helen Wallimann published by Matador in July 2016.

Featured in WorldReads: Switzerland

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Summertime. While his wife and daughters are away on holiday, the husband – a librarian by profession – back home at work in the stultifying heat of a provincial Swiss town, indulges in reminiscence. With light amusement he recalls old love affairs. Memories come back of student days in Zurich and academic research in Paris, of starting family life, of trifling matters and crucial turning-points. But again and again the narrator also returns to the present; he describes his work at the library, life in his small town, acquaintances old and new and finally, in the autumn, a journey with his wife to China.
The author's ironic but amiable look at life in all its diversity, the combination of laconic recounting and academic recollection, day-dreaming sequences and conscious remembering make for an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating read."

Wasp Days is an unusual book which I wasn't sure whether I would like or not. It took me a while to get into von Buren's previous novel, Epitaph For A Working Man, and I experienced the same adjustment time with Wasp Days. The first chapter is an older man reminiscing about women who had been his lovers in his youth and its sets our narrator up in a particularly unlikeable light, or so I thought anyway! Essentially a perpetual small-scale academic, he sees himself as something of a catch despite relying on his wife, Eva, to whom he is unfaithful, to organise anything practical and to finance their family through her career. Eva is the dynamo of the partnership bringing up their daughters, arranging their house moves and providing their social face, while our narrator potters and hides away in libraries.

I did rather envy him his library-closeted life and, as we get to know him better, I could see what initially seemed chauvinistic arrogance actually as sheer bravado. He might have been daring in a small way in his younger days, but now he is dusty and fading, paranoid about his health and almost afraid to step outside of his clearly defined comfort zones. I never felt sorry for him, but found this novel compelling reading as more was revealed. My wanderlust was sparked by reading Wasp Days too. A late voyage to China is briefly described in fascinating detail and I was entranced by Paris scenes. Wasp Days certainly won't be a book for everyone and it meandering pace is sometimes too slow. I liked it though and enjoyed reading this careful portrait of a man of a certain age.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Erhard von Buren / Contemporary fiction / Books from Switzerland

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