The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector review

Having read a couple of Clarice Lispector’s short stories and enjoyed them, I wanted to try one of her novels and settled on The Besieged City. Translated by Johnny Lorenz, the novel follows Lucrecia Neves, a vain and superficial young woman who lives in the small town of Sao Geraldo. The novel tracks the changes both Lucrecia and Sao Geraldo experience through the years; the woman intent on achieving perfection and the town surrendering to progress.

In the Penguin Modern Classics edition of the novel is a review of the book published in 1949. The writer, Temistocles Linhares, concludes by saying, ‘Everything that the novel offers – its lyrical power, the development of Lucrecia Neves’s individual consciousness, the interspersed references to other beings and incidents without greater importance, etc. – fails to go beyond whatever verbal worth it might have. Everything is worthwhile in the eyes of this novelist, but she’s susceptible to lacking discriminating taste’. Whilst the novel does focus on seemingly unimportant events and may initially appear very surface level in terms of exploring themes, this seems deliberate on Lispector’s part. The shallowness reflects the shallow nature of Lucrecia’s character; as the primary narrator the reader mainly sees the world through her eyes. She is incredibly superficial and seems to be more attracted to and interested in objects than people. In fact, there is a scene where Lucrecia poses like a statue – pretending to be an object that people admire. That is what she deems ‘worthwhile’ and Lispector does spend a bit of time on that scene. So whilst Linhare’s critique is understandable, I read the superficiality and emphasis on seemingly insignificant things as a reflection of Lucrecia’s personality.

Lucrecia herself is a wonderful creation and one of the book’s greatest strengths. She is such a fascinating character; in some ways repugnant but captivating throughout. The intensity of her thoughts and dreams – rendered beautifully by Lispector’s literary prowess and almost teetering on the brink of magical realism – allows the reader to really understand her. It also contrasts nicely with her relationships. Whilst she has these vivid daydreams she rarely speaks throughout the course of the novel – she is nearly mute. This again helps to emphasis the importance she places on things rather than people – she thinks so little of others that she barely communicates with them. Lispector also compares her to horses throughout. This not only reflects Lucrecia’s wild, almost animalistic, nature (it can also be read as Lucrecia rejecting her humanness) but the main theme of progress. It is horses that are used to change Sao Geraldo from a small backwaters town to a bustling city; they are carrying the materials used to make things like houses and railroad tracks. And Lucrecia – who believes she had a part in Sao Geraldo’s progress because of her sheer will power – sees herself in a similar manner. Lispector really captures this through her use of zoomorphism, and the reader is given a deeper insight into Lucrecia and how she views her place in Sao Geraldo.

The Besieged City will delight many Lispector fans, though admittedly it is not one I would recommend to people new to her work. It has the beautiful and evocative imagery that Lispector seemed to write effortlessly, but it is also an experimental novel. She plays with time and structure, and admittedly at points the novel can be difficult to understand. Certainly I had to reread passages a couple of times to fully understand what Lispector was meaning. A difficult but worthwhile read.

The Besieged City is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.  

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind review

I am ashamed to say I have never read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer until now. Its status as a modern classic plus the legion of fans it has acquired means I’ve heard nothing but good things, yet until this year never picked it up. Set in France in the 1700s we follow Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the eponymous murderer. Despite himself not having any odour, Grenouille is born with an extraordinary sense of smell and quickly becomes determined to ‘own’ all the smells he can. His attentions turn to the art of perfumery and he decides to become the greatest perfumer of all, but his ambitions lead him down increasingly darker paths.

At first I was uncertain of the distance placed between the characters and the reader. I’m not sure if this is down to Süskind or translator John E. Woods, but I felt a real disconnect from the events in the plot. It is hard to care for anyone in this novel. Yet as the plot progresses, this distance works as it is similar to the distance felt by Grenouille from the rest of the world. He doesn’t care about anyone, not even himself: he is only driven by his sole desire to create the ultimate perfume. In his mind everything else is insignificant so thus there is a certain level of detachment in the narration. An excellent example of this is the character of Laure Richis, a young woman that Grenouille is obsessed with (or rather her scent). She never speaks, never appears to have any agency; at first this can be frustrating, until you realise that to Grenouille doesn’t care for her as a person, he just wants her smell. Her lack of humanity in the narration reflects how he doesn’t see her as a person in her own right. The use of the narration to get into the main character’s mind was highly effective, and made Perfume more disturbing.

How Süskind also created and described 18th century France primarily through smells was excellent. The certain scents Grenouille picks up are described in remarkable detail, helping to create this very evocative picture, whether that be the slums of Paris or the countryside heading south. The landscapes themselves don’t really need to be discussed; their smells alone are enough for the reader to ‘see’ them in their mind’s eye. The focus on scent is another way for the reader to understand Grenouille, or certainly see the world as he does. His obsession with scent is mirrored in the narration, allowing the reader a glimpse into his mind plus the landscape in which the story is unfolding.

Was Perfume what I expected it to be? No, though I was pleasantly surprised. It was far more character-driven than I had anticipated, and I loved how Süskind delved into the psyche of Grenouille through the use of third person narration. He is very much the heart and soul of the book, and is such a fascinating, terrible human being that it is hard to stop reading. The religious imagery was also handled really well, and was very effective in conveying Grenouille’s state of mind (sadly I can’t discuss this because of spoilers). Overall, Perfume was a great read with an excellent narrative and clever mirroring. It is obvious why it has garnered the praise it has.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is published by Penguin and more information can be found here

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay review

As Valentine’s Day has just passed I wanted to do a bookish post on the topic, and I’ve spent the past couple of days racking my brain for ideas. In the end, I decided to simply do a book review on a novel that a) counts towards my goal of rereading more and b) is set on Valentine’s Day: Picnic at Hanging Rock. Between the novel, the acclaimed film directed by Peter Weir, and the recent TV adaptation most people already know the premise. Set in 1900 at Appleyard College for girls, three students and their teacher mysteriously vanish whilst on a picnic at Hanging Rock. The community, stunned by the disappearances, attempt to recover the missing women.

Lindsay deliberately blurs the line between fact and fiction, for example writing newspaper articles about the disappearances, and she does this to great effect. Whilst this is a work of fiction, it makes you question what would happen or could happen if something like this occurred in real life. Could a handful of schoolgirls simple disappear? How and why? It makes the events of the novel more disconcerting to imagine them really taking place rather than viewing them as just fictional. Lindsay also throws some intriguing plot twists into the story, always keeping the reader suspecting what happened. Having these clues dotted about makes it quite fun to try and guess what is happening, even if it seems impossible to work out.

The one criticism I have of Picnic at Hanging Rock, a problem for me on my first read and still now, is the ending. In my edition the chapter where the disappearances are solved is present, but I know it was originally published separately. Without going into spoilers, it just didn’t work for me. The open-ended original worked a lot better; leaving the readers to guess what had happened. It certainly invites a lot of discussion and speculation. But the novel, whilst centred on this mystery, felt more about the girls at Appleyard College and their relationships. Certainly, that is what I enjoyed most about the book. Lindsay captures her characters incredibly well and it a joy to watch them develop over the course of the plot. It’s also interesting to see how the mystery affects them and how their lives are impacted. They are not mentioned in the final chapter, which focuses entirely on the missing persons, which meant I wasn’t wholly invested in those last few pages. In some ways, the girls that remained were more fascinating than the ones who vanished.

With that being said, I still liked Picnic at Hanging Rock on my reread. The blurring of fact and fiction was really well-handled, and it added depth to the story. Lindsay’s writing is also very atmospheric and she creates these beautiful backdrops for the action to unfold on. Her characters as well are beautifully drawn. I just think the last chapter is unnecessary, and weakens an otherwise very strong novel. I can see why it was initially left out.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.  

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada review

Hi everyone! Today I’m reviewing German author Hans Fallada’s classic Alone in Berlin (or Every Man Dies Alone). It is partly based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel. Here, the names are Otto and Anna Quangel, a working class couple living in Berlin in 1940. Their lives are changed forever when they received word that their son has been killed in battle. Distraught and angry, the couple begin to leave postcards around the city, criticising the Nazi government and encouraging people to resist. The novel also follows Inspector Escherich, the man in charge of discovering who has been leaving these cards.

Alone in Berlin starts off slow, and the pacing at the beginning is my main criticism. Whilst I understand this time is used to introduce us to the characters and the climate of fear they live in, at times I felt myself wondering how much of this was useful. This could also be due to the fact that it is a translated work (Michael Hofmann translating here) which might explain why I found some of the sentences at the beginning a bit awkward. Perhaps reading the book in German might have given a different experience. Yet, the characters got under my skin. I started to become invested in these people, and the book started to pick up speed. At the end, I couldn’t put it down.

Whilst the Quangels are the main characters, Fallada also follows several others. He gives a real sense of the community they live in and develops these secondary characters really well. It makes the reader engage more with the plot, because you witness how one person’s actions affects the others, sometimes being fatal. It also adds to the tension and the oppressive atmosphere of the piece, another aspect that Fallada executes brilliantly. There is a creeping sense of dread that permeates throughout, making the reader uncomfortable at moments yet a necessary addition. It helps place the reader in the characters’ shoes, and helping to make their actions understandable.

Alone in Berlin is a slow, absorbing read. Whilst I had a few quibbles at the beginning of the book, they were completely forgotten by the end. I was hooked in by the characters, as well as Fallada’s atmospheric writing – he places the reader directly in wartime Berlin. At times, it is a tense, depressing read, due obviously to the subject matter, yet a message of hope is present throughout. This is my second time reading Alone in Berlin, but I highly doubt it will be my last.

Alone in Berlin is published by Penguin and you can find more information here

The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier review

Hi everyone! So ,some people probably know this or took part in it, but the 13th May was the start of Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week. Between my visit to London and attempting to write coherent reviews for the Women’s Prize shortlist before the winner was announced, I haven’t had the time to write a review of the Du Maurier book I read (or, in this case, reread) The House on the Strand. We follow Dick Young, who has recently given up his job and gone to visit his friend Magnus’ house in Cornwall (it’s Daphne Du Maurier – where else is it going to be?!) It turns out Magnus would like Dick to try out a new drug he has developed, one which helps people to time travel. Dick slowly becomes addicted to the drug and the people who lived in the house centuries before, in particular Roger and Isolda. However, his wife Vita and stepsons soon show up to the house and become worried by his increasingly bizarre behaviour…

When I first read The House on the Strand nearly a decade ago, I didn’t know what to think of it. I remember thinking this was the most original time travel novel I had ever read; which I still believe today. In a way it predates virtual reality but sort of alludes to it; being able to see into the past but having your body firmly rooted in the present. It is such a unique and fun concept that I could have read a much longer novel about it. This split echoes Dick’s own predicament in his personal life; he is trapped between two worlds. Not only between the past and present, but between staying in the UK or emigrating to the USA (where Vita is originally from); neither of which he wants to do. The time travel element is so brilliantly constructed and executed that it still blew me away years later.

The characters as well are so incredibly written. All people past and present were given their storyline and arcs, though admittedly I always enjoyed the dynamic between Dick, Magnus, and Vita the most. The friendship between the two men is endlessly fascinating; Magnus seems to be the more dominant of the two whilst Dick is more passive, which is also the relationship between Vita and Dick. You’re also left questioning if their friendship was anything more than that, which opens up a different interpretation of the novel and makes The House on the Strand very re-readable. You can get something new every time you pick it up. Originally years ago, I didn’t like Vita; now as I’ve grown up I definitely sympathise with her. By contrast, Dick frustrates me more – which his character is supposed to do, and I still sometimes relate to him a bit too much. But they are portrayed so well, you’re able to understand both perspectives and see the flaws and strengths in them.

The House on the Strand is one of my favourite Du Maurier novels, because not only do you get great characters, stunning imagery, and an amazing story that you find in all of her books, but I find it the most playful. Is it historical fiction or is it sci-fi? It falls into both categories. Du Maurier also looks at drug addiction and the effects it has on people and their families. There is even a romance element to it. She has combined so many genres and themes, but is able to blend them all together effortlessly, creating a truly unique novel. It also has a brilliant, ambiguous ending which makes me want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. It won’t be for everyone, but The House on the Strand stands among her finest works for me. And given how much I love Rebecca and Jamaica Inn that’s saying something.

The House on the Strand is published by Virago and you can find more information here.

Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter review

Hi everyone! Today I thought I’d review Angela Carter’s novel (novella?) Heroes and Villains. Marianne lives with her father, a Professor of History, along with the other Professors in a white tower made of steel and concrete. Outside is a vast wilderness which the inhabitants never go into, and is full of Barbarians. Curious about this mysterious outside world, Marianne decides to escape from her tower, aided by captured Barbarian Jewel.

Before I start, I wanted to mention that Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is one of my favourite short story collections. I adored every single story and occasionally reread some of them. So you can imagine my excitement in trying one of her novels. And you can also imagine my disappointment on finishing this particular novel.

To start with the (only) positive; Carter’s imagery is beautiful. She captures this landscape so well that it is easy to picture. An example is when Marianne sees a house in the wild; ‘The forest perched upon the tumbled roofs in the shapes of yellow and purple weeds rooted in the gapped tiles , besides a few small trees and bushes. The windows gaped or sprouted internal foliage, as if the forest were as well already camped inside, there gathering strength for a green eruption which would one day burst the walls sky high back to nature’ (pg. 36). There is this amazing feeling of both decay and regeneration; of human civilization crumbling and nature regaining land. She evokes this sense throughout wonderfully, making those passages a joy to read.

What sadly wasn’t a joy was pretty much everything else. Marianne was so promising; flawed, interesting main character curious about the wider world. What’s not to like? But sadly as the plot went on, she became passive aggressive and whiny. She decides she will do something but ultimately doesn’t, seemingly preferring to complain instead. And Jewel had no personality at all. I can’t think of a single adjective to describe him. Their friendship/relationship/dynamic didn’t work; there was never any spark between them, any feelings at all. It makes the reader wonder why Carter chooses to keep these characters together throughout their journey as neither are engaging individually, and as a double act they are downright insufferable. Their witty banter is clumsy, pseudo-philosophical nonsense which made little sense given what is happening around them. Ultimately, I never cared about either of them and the ending left me feeling nothing.

The plot, very much like the end to Brexit, is non-existent. The small synopsis at the top of this review is as exciting as the book gets. Everything else seems to focus on the two annoying leads and a handful of other Barbarians who don’t fare much better in the characterisation department. I don’t mind character-driven books, but there would have to actually be engaging characters. The novel seemed to drag and it is only 164 pages. The theme as well seemed to be invisible. Is it a take on fairytales – an anti-fairytale even? Feminism? A critique on society? Nature? Heroes and Villains has elements of all of these but never sees them through, leaving the reader with a handful of half-baked ideas.

There is a reason why this novel isn’t one of Carter’s most famous works. Whilst she writes evocatively as she always does, the lack of interesting characters and any semblance to a plot meant this was a chore to get through. I’m now wary of picking up the another novel of hers I own, Wise Children though I suppose it can’t be worse than this. For Carter completionists only.

Heroes and Villains is published by Penguin Modern Classics and you can find more information here.

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner review

Hi everyone! I promise I am doing Nonfiction November ( hopefully I’ll get a review for one of the books up next week) but I had to go to the hospital for a skin biopsy during the week and fancied a lighter fare while I waited. So I picked up Hotel du Lac, a Man Booker winner by Anita Brookner. Our narrator is Edith Hope, who is a romance writer banished to the eponymous hotel in Switzerland after embarrassing herself and her friends. While there she meets Philip Neville and an opportunity for romance presents itself to Edith.

Brookner reminded me of Barbara Pym while I was reading this, especially Excellent Women. Their ability to zone in and remark on the mannerisms, the way people carry themselves, is extraordinary. They can sum up social classes with a phrase or a sentence, and often when reading their observations, you realise how accurate they are but you (or certainly I) never took note in real life. It makes Hotel du Lac a joy to read when Brookner focuses on an aspect of society and studies it.

Yet for all the social commentary, Hotel du Lac feels like a book about books. The plot revolves around a romance novelist within the confines of a romantic book, or the setting and appearance of Neville feels like they should be in a romance. But Brookner plays with romantic tropes, and without giving away spoilers, she subverts them and shows how ridiculous they sometimes are. Aside from that, literature is woven through the book. It’s repeatedly noted that Edith looks like Virginia Woolf; a striking comparison considering the types of novels they write and how Brookner occasionally employs stream of consciousness. There is also a feeling Edith has of wanting to write something different; something better, than she has under the pseudonym Vanessa Wilde (a nod to Woolf’s sister perhaps?)

The other characters are also fascinating, though some feel like caricatures. As we see them through Edith’s perspective, it is hard to know whether she is seeing them accurately or if she’s projecting onto them traits they don’t possess. Monica, forever wandering around with her little dog Kiki, is a good example. Edith sees her and makes up these stories about why this glamourous woman is at the hotel but none of them are true, as she reveals the reason why later in the book. So as a reader you are never sure how accurate the portrayals of the other guests are.

I did enjoy Hotel du Lac, and I’m curious to read more of Brookner’s work. I really enjoyed her social commentary it was both interesting and funny, especially when I had seen some of the things she was talking about in real life. It is quite slow-paced in moments and they dragged a little. It seems odd to say as the book is short, but I felt those moments were unnecessary. But overall it was a fun read and I’m glad I picked it up – it made a nice distraction from the hospital!

Hotel du Lac is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac review

Hi everyone! This week I’m reviewing Beat writer Kerouac’s most famous work, On the Road. Set in the late 1940s our narrator is writer Sal Paradise who recalls his various trips across America with friend Dean Moriarty. This culminates in a trip, along with a third friend, to Mexico.

I felt exhausted reading this. The plot goes by rapidly, with little to no introspection or comment from Sal. This has the effect of sweeping the reader along; as the characters do not stop to reflect on their actions neither does their audience. While having written some notes concerning his ‘road book’, Kerouac wrote the first draft of the novel really quickly which added to this feeling. The sentences (particularly a lot of Dean’s dialogue) are quite long with plenty of detail which emphasises the exhilaration felt by the characters, and subsequently the reader.

I also really enjoyed the characterisation. Dean Moriarty in particular is such a fascinating character; while Sal Paradise is the narrator, it is Dean who lingers in the mind long after the book is finished. He is perplexing; I often found myself uncertain as to whether I like him or not. He has an incredible lust for life and an energy that is infectious; yet he is also a criminal and seems to hold little regard for his family as he frequently abandons them to go on road trips. You are never sure what he is thinking which helps give him this mysterious aura.

Sal as well was interesting – his friendship with Dean seemed to almost border hero worship at points. He defends Dean’s actions, regardless of what other characters say. This makes Sal a sort of unreliable narrator; is the version of Dean he is presenting accurate or has he simply glorified him? Is he blind to Dean’s faults (which other people can see and have pointed out) or does he just merely ignore them? I enjoyed the ambiguity, of not knowing how much to believe.

I also really liked how Kerouac embedded art into the road. There are countless references to music, especially jazz. A couple of times I was reminded of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, as Dean always searches for ‘It’ wherever he goes and whenever they pass Times Square they search for a friend who they can’t find. There are also a lot of biblical references; with Dean being described as both Jesus and the Angel of Terror at different points. The intertextuality helps to show Kerouac’s influences but also how Paradise, an artistic person, sees the world. It gives a glimpse into his personality.

I really enjoyed On the Road. This was my first exposure to Kerouac – or, indeed, anyone from the Beat Generation – and I’m interested in picking up more of his work. The characterisation and structure of the novel were excellent and every word seemed deliberately used. The novel has this vibrancy and liveliness which radiates from the page. It made me want to road trip across the USA so very badly.

On the Road is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford review

Hi everyone! I was originally planning to write my review of Parade’s End in November with the centenary of the end of WW1 coming up. But I have quite a lot to say and, in fear of forgetting some of my thoughts, I have decided to write it now. Parade’s End is a quartet; the individual books being Some Do Not-, A Man Could Stand Up, No More Parades, and The Last Post. Our protagonist is Christopher Tietjens, the youngest son of quite a wealthy family, whose wife Sylvia has been having affairs during their relationship. However, things become more complicated when Tietjens falls for Valentine Wannop, a young suffragette, yet wants to remain loyal to his wife. This love triangle takes place before, during and after the First World War.

Some people may have seen the BBC adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall, and this is maybe the first time I’m glad I saw the show first. The novels are very Modernist in style; which some people might not like but I don’t mind. But there are occasional flashbacks within flashbacks, and combined with a large cast of characters, makes the reading experience confusing at times. If I hadn’t seen the TV show beforehand, I think I would have been lost; the constant jumping of time and characters was a little disorienting. However, once you get sucked into the plot it does grip you.

One of my favourite aspects of the novels is the characterisation. Tietjens is such a noble, intelligent yet irritatingly passive person. As a reader you are never sure how to feel about him; he is a bit of an enigma. This is obvious during The Last Post; Tietjens doesn’t make an appearance until near the end. He is seen, but only in other characters’ flashbacks so you never get to view things from his perspective. It leaves him as this shrouded, allusive figure at the end. During the first three novels you are given some insight into his personality – with varying responses. Sometimes I found him to be quite a noble, tragic figure; doing what he knows to be right and putting that above his own wants. Yet at other moments he is a doormat, other characters seem to steamroller over him and he doesn’t stand up for himself. He is such an interesting, yet frustrating, character.

His relationships with Sylvia and Valentine can also be described in a similar vein. Tietjens and Sylvia do love each other but it feels ‘wrong’. They can’t seem to communicate or give what the other person wants; leading to outbursts and infidelities, especially from Sylvia’s side. She admires her husband but is frustrated by him, and you can feel her conflicted emotions through the page. Tietjens and Valentine’s relationship has a different quality to it. Again, there is the admiration for one another but I was always uncertain about their love. They could truly love one another, but I think Ford leaves open other possibilities. Does Tietjens love Valentine because she is different from Sylvia? Does he put her on a pedestal, as someone who has qualities he may want? Is it simply a case of wanting what you can’t have? You are never really told, and the ending does nothing to solve these conflicts. Instead it is up to the reader to interpret what happened.

Whilst the heart of Parade’s End deals with this love triangle, it also explores the changing society around this period. Through the character of Valentine you see the struggle for women’s suffrage; but in general you witness class systems being broken down. Without going into spoilers, something happens to Groby, the Tietjens’ ancestral home, which encapsulates the downfall of the ruling class. I found that particular passage to be very moving yet it felt a satisfying conclusion to the story.

Overall, Parade’s End is a bit of a roller coaster. Entertaining at times, frustrating at others; characters about whom you are not entirely sure what to feel about; there is a lot to take in. But I do believe it is worth the time and effort as I came away reflecting on what I had read. I was still thinking about these characters a week after finishing; they linger in the mind for a while. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like historical novels or those set during the Great War, you might like Parade’s End.

Parade’s End is published by Penguin Modern Classics and you can find more information here.

Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? by Hans Fallada review

Hi everyone! This Monday I’m back with another Penguin Modern book: Hans Fallada’s Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch?, which has been translated by Michael Hofmann. I have previously read Alone in Berlin, probably Fallada’s most famous work, and really enjoyed it so I thought I would pick up some of his short stories. Similar to my Clarice Lispector review, I’ll go through my thoughts on each individual story with my overall impression of the collection at the end.

The first story sees our nameless narrator try to answer the titular question. He wears a nickel watch though his father is a watchmaker, and explains the various scrapes he has gotten himself into. The story is only 5 pages long, and could be described as more flash fiction than anything else, so it was a really quick, easy read. Obviously due to its length there isn’t a lot of depth but I found the story funny and the protagonist quite endearing. There is a dark sense of humour running throughout, which is also apparent in the other stories, making this a good opener to the collection.

The second story ‘War Monument or Urinal?’ is probably my favourite out of all three stories. In the provincial town Neustadt, unemployed teacher Pumm works as a lowly reporter to earn some money, when a chance encounter with a policeman leads him to make a suggestion in his paper that the town should build a petrol station to encourage tourism. The suggestion causes arguments to erupt in the small town and things quickly begin to escalate. Fallada appears to mock local government officials, who seem completely inept at looking into this new proposal and dealing with the tensions said proposal has arisen. Their absurdity is laughable and it did make me smile on occasion. Fallada also looks at representatives from across the political spectrum, with nobody immune to mockery. The character of Pumm was also an interesting one. He is an ordinary man inadvertently caught in the middle, yet some of the decisions he makes are quite reprehensible. On the one hand you do sympathise with him, but on the another he isn’t necessarily the most likeable character, which I found interesting.

The final story is ‘Fifty Marks and a Merry Christmas’ which sees newlyweds Itzenplitz and Mumm struggle to scrape enough money together for Christmas. The two leads are likeable but this story felt longer than necessary. It could’ve been shorter and the narrative would still work. The secondary characters as well I didn’t find particularly compelling, and I was much more interested in Itzenplitz and Mumm and their relationship than the others. It was a very sweet, charming story but not without its flaws and I’m not sure if I would reread it.

Overall I did enjoy Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? The stories were darkly funny and it was nice seeing another aspect of Fallada’s writing compared to Alone in Berlin. With the stories being written in 1931/32 it was also interesting seeing snapshots of Germany between the wars, which isn’t a period I’ve read a lot about. The stories aren’t perfect by any means but I found them quirky, funny and enjoyable. This would make a good introduction to someone who has never read Fallada (or if you’re like me and want to read more by him).

Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.