Sunday 19 April 2015

The neighbours are painting their house (again), in search of complete cleanliness and renewal, not to say purge, for the time being.

I'm reading The Wall by Marlen Haushofer. 'Today, the fifth of November, I shall begin my report,' she says on line one. This is what you do when you're the last person in the world, just in case you're not the last, or not for ever.

The neighbours have chosen a colour very similar to the one they chose two years ago, close to the colour of a buff envelope; they tried several untidy swatches on the front to make it look as if it needed doing.

In addition to writing the report, the woman keeps a diary, tightening and containing the days, with inexplicable lacunae. For example, she never writes about killing deer, she tells us. The report covers two years in a forest with a dog, a cat and a cow, then kittens and a calf, milking the cow, mucking her out, catching trout, making hay, feeding deer in winter and eating them as necessary.

The neighbours are doing what they're doing. I'm saying what a woman in a book is doing and how she chooses what to say, on her own in the forest, with the rest of the world stopped in its tracks beyond a transparent wall. An ordinary woman, nameless, middle-aged, not very good at carpentry, didn't know she had hands until she was forty. She doesn't dwell on her situation; too much to do. The report covers two years in the forest and takes her four months to write; she stops when she runs out of paper.

After ten pages I forgot the premise of the book, and the neighbours needlessly painting their house. A woman in a hunting lodge in a forest, spared the frozen, stone-like death of the rest of the world, is more pressing and more vulnerable than most of us. This is an end-story of the 1960s, which I'm somehow bound to understand.

Not Thoreau, not Robinson Crusoe, not JG Ballard, not Beckett. Not any of these. The woman is a thin skin covering a mountain of memories, she says. Her dog Lynx looks after her as much as she looks after him. Even after his death, which colours the report long before it's happened, he's there with her, like her, hungry and yearning, following invisible trails.

In a line here, an image there, the reporter falters and the page slips into the minor key. Not for long.  This is not a reflective book. It moves through tasks and events, neither exasperated nor happy. All the reflection is yours; afterwards you look anew at a wheelbarrow, a woodpile, a greenhouse, a loaf of bread you've made, your own cats and hens, the gentleness, sometimes, when the rest of the world is there, repainting the house, maybe, or washing the car.

The end of the book startled me; I would have been happy without an ending, without the rest of the world in any shape or form. I would have been happy with just the prospect of further and maybe reduced life in the forest, which is there too, in the final pages.

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