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lunes, 18 de septiembre de 2017

"To the Back of Beyond", Peter Stamm

Editorial: GRANTA
Translated by: Michael Hofmann
Year of Edition: 2017

After returning from a pleasant holiday with his wife, Astrid, and their two children, Thomas leaves the house. He walks down the street, and he keeps on walking. At first Astrid asks herself where he's gone, and then when he's coming back, and finally whether he is even still alive.
In precise and hypnotic prose that cuts as cleanly as a scalpel, To the Back of Beyond is a novel that takes away the safe foundations of a marriage and a lifestyle to ask deeper questions about identity, connection and how free we are to change our lives. It is a graceful and resonant work from one of Europe's most important writers.

 "Uncertainty and adventure or comfortable and assured routine?"
That is the question.

The writer goes into the psychological territory with this novel, parallel to the penetration of the protagonist into the valleys and mountains of Switzerland, avoiding civilization to not be discovered in his voluntary escape.

The story is told from two points of view, that of Thomas including detailed descriptions of the landscape as if of his hidden feelings using a double meaning prose, and that of his wife Astrid, who refuses to believe that her husband has disappeared forever.

We could attribute the desire to change his life, as the main reason why Thomas decides to abandon his “perfect” life in the heart of a capitalist society; however, marriage also plays a very important role, becoming, in my opinion, one of the few things that are true throughout the story. Nevertheless, the novel is full of open questions of a multitude of topics such as infidelity or family that the reader, usually accustomed to an ordinary life, will have to make an effort to answer.

Thomas is confronted with the emptiness of an existential crisis whereby he finds no escape but to get away from the artificial world that surrounds us rather than the blissful routine and feel himself unprotected and disoriented in a hostile world.

“Thomas had the disquieting feeling that all this had been laid on for him… It was an artificial world, a model construction under an expansive blue sky”

He is aware that this control is not only exercised over him, even though he is the only one who perceives it and therefore is not able to connect with his own wife, keeping them apart despite being physically close.

“He pictured himself lying in the bed next to Astrid, not touching, but he could feel her warmth and heaviness, as though the two of them were two stars, held by mutual gravity, orbiting round and round each other, without ever getting closer”

As he moves away from this suffocating world, we can appreciate a great liberation:

“He lay down and was soon in a sort of half sleep, where places and times blurred into a blissful feeling of endlessness”

This paragraph contains spoilers

The argument seems to me to be linear and not sentimental, though with a large load of implicit messages, and keeping the reader waiting for a possible justification of Thomas's mysterious behaviour or an explanation of his evolution at the end of the story, which the author does not provide.

Perhaps the double message of two possible ways of life, different from each other or maybe not so different, is the main engine of the plot.

As far as I am concerned, this is a story of someone who desperately seeks to feel alive, even at the risk of appearing to be the most selfish and cruel person who leaves his family in a compromised situation. However, as he finds himself, he draws closer to his origins. Thus, from the denouement comes the strong affirmation that:

-in the first place we must put our inner world in order, so that we can give the best to others-

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