Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Intimate Ties: Two Novellas by Robert Musil

Intimate Ties: Two Novellas by Robert Musil
First published by George Muller Verlag in German as Vereinigungen in Germany in 1911. English language translation by Peter Wortsman published by Archipelago Press on the 3rd January 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read and one of my WorldReads from Austria

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First published in 1911, Intimate Ties is Robert Musil's second book, consisting of two novellas, 'The Culmination of Love' and 'The Temptation of Silent Veronica.'

Each revolves around a troubled woman in the throes of her sexual and romantic woes, as their memories of the past return to influence their present desires. Musil tracks the psyche of his protagonists in a blurring of impressions that is reflected in his experimental prose.

Intimate Ties offers the reader an early glimpse of the high modernist style Musil would perfect in his magnum opus The Man Without Qualities.

I do love stumbling across weird and wonderful books, and Intimate Ties is certainly one of the most unusual I have read in quite a while! A pairing of two novellas which are basically linked by each focussing on a single female protagonist as she agonises over a deep emotional decision. In 'The Culmination of Love' Claudine journeys away from her husband in order to visit her daughter at a boarding school. Finding herself soon snowed in when she gets there, Claudine is tempted by the thought of a brief liaison with a fellow traveller. In 'The Temptation of Silent Veronica', the eponymous Veronica must decide between two potential suitors and the one she sends away is intending to row to the centre of a lake in order to kill himself. It's all cheery stuff! (It's really not!)

Vereinigungen (retitled as Intimate Ties for this English translation) was an experiment for Musil, one which I think he loved but which was not received well on its original publication. Despite the intense labour of love undertaken by Wortsman in rendering the two novellas in English, they are still probably more of curiosities now than works to suddenly find their place and time. That said, I loved the first novella, The Culmination Of Love! I thought the dense stream-of-consciousness style perfectly suited Claudine's predicament and the tiny details of description are divine: 'the light striking the wall congealed into golden lace' for example. This is very much a story for introverts and those of us who overthink everything. Musil takes three pages over an initial stilted conversation of no more than a half dozen sentences. Most readers, I am sure, will have tossed the book aside before Claudine even managed to get a cup of tea poured! Personally, however, I was absolutely hooked. The story feels of its time - in a good way - and I am grateful to Archipelago for giving me the chance to read it.

The Temptation of Silent Veronica, the second novella, however, left me cold. I just didn't feel the magic here at all and I can't put my finger on why. Perhaps I should have left a gap between the stories instead of reading them back to back? I don't know. The writing style that gripped me before now felt overly convoluted and I had no empathy for Veronica. In fact for a lot of the time I wasn't even sure what was going on. Not that much was, of course. That's kinda the point!

So in conclusion, I can say that most of you reading this are unlikely to get anything out of reading Intimate Ties. Those of you who do tend to enjoy the same literary oddness as me might just love The Culmination Of Love as much as I did. And, to anyone who 'got' The Temptation Of Silent Veronica, you have my admiration. Even after reading Wortsman's interesting and helpful essay on his translations, I am still baffled.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Robert Musil / Novellas / Books from Austria


  1. Well at least you liked one of them.

    1. Yes, it was odd how different the two seemed!

  2. Agonizing over a crisis of conscience can make for a good story now and then. Bummer you couldn't get the same connection with the second book.
    I do enjoy picking up books written in older time periods that were written to a contemporary audience so I can get a sense how people thought at that time.

    1. These novellas provide a good insight into 1910s attitudes and etiquette