Sunday, October 18, 2009

Robert Walser...The Tanners

Robert Walser was an eccentric writer. Though I am only a fraction of the way through with the New Directions The Tanners, just recently released, I thought I would talk about it anyway.

First off...this book is funny. Funny in that offhanded, early 20th century funny. But funny in a timeless way. Funny as only the down and out and slightly insane can write funny. Walser wanders in and out of story & thought. In and out of letters to and from bothers. In and out of jobs and towns. His protagonist, Simon, is off-the-cuff and unremarkable (though charming and fascinating) except in his own eyes.

The book begins with Simon walking into a bookstore and telling the owner, "I want to be a bookseller...I yearn to become one, and I don't know what might prevent me from carrying out my intentions. I've always imagined the trade in books must be an enchanting activity, and I cannot understand why I should still be forced to pine away outside of this fine, lovely occupation. For you see, sir, standing here before you, I find myself extraordinarily well suited for selling books in your shop, and selling as many as you could possibly wish me to."

Just a few pages after this we read a letter, one Simon has not yet read, from his older brother Klaus chastising Simon for his wandering ways and his inability to stick with a job and then...

"When a week had passed, Simon entered his employer's office just as evening was arriving and made the following speech: 'You have disappointed me. Don't look so astonished, there's nothing to be done about it, I shall quit your place of business this very day and ask you that you pay me my wages. Please, let me finish. I know perfectly well what I want. During the past week I've come to realize that the entire book trade is nothing less that ghastly if it must entail standing at one's desk from early morning to late at night...writing like some accursed happenstance copyist and performing work unsuitable for a mind such as my own."

The other wonderful thing about this book is the introduction (though it is lengthy it is totally worth the read) which is an excerpt for a to be announced collection of essays by W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country. This essay, Le Promeneur Solitaier: A Remembrance of Robert Walser is fascinating and incredibly well written. Next on my list to read is some Sebald. I can tell that I have been missing out.

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