A Whole Life
The title, A Whole Life, sums up pretty well the entirety of Robert Seethaler's novel: it is the story of a life of a man in one remote mountain valley. At only 150 pages, it is a quick read and a simple one. The prose is matter-of-fact and the story trudges along smoothly. The protagonist, Andreas Egger, is wholly at the center of the story. His world, the mountain, revolves around him. The book - shortlisted for the Man Booker - was quite beautifully written (even in translation. I'm loving books in translation recently). You really get a sense of who Egger is, what his relationship to his landscape is like, and you truly feel his solitude. There's no plot twists nor mysteries: Seethaler presents a portrait of a life in mid-century Austrian Alps. That's all. No frills. An interviewer pointed out to Seethaler the "contrast between the book's imposing title and its short length," to which he responded:
It has nothing to do with squeezing, more with carving out. Where do you begin? What do you select? What do you leave out? In the end it all revolves around the question: What are the things that go to make up such a life? It’s like carving wood or sculpting stone. You don’t get many chances. Every cut, every blow of the chisel has to sit right. In a way I was carving Andreas Egger, the book’s central character, out of my heart. Every life, when you look back on it, reduces itself to a few moments. The moments are what stay with us.
A fantastic work; sometimes shorter is better (looking at you, Jonathan Safran Foer), and this portrait of a man definitely "sits right" with the readers. Even though Egger was not that likeable, I do not think the protagonist has to be """likeable""" for the book to work. The story sometimes just works.