Fans of Fleur Jaeggy rejoice: A link to my review of I Am the Brother of XX and These Possible Lives at Numéro Cinq

Any one who has fallen under the spell of the shimmering spare prose of Swiss-born Italian writer Fleur Jaeggy is well aware of her uncanny ability to evoke subtle shades of darkness and weave tales that linger in the imagination. However, for English speaking readers it has been a long wait for new work to emerge in translation. Fourteen years to be precise. That patience is finally rewarded, as this month sees the highly anticipated release of not one, but two recent collections: I Am the Brother of XX, a compilation of short stories, and These Possible Lives, a set of three hyper-condensed biographical essays.

These works, not surprisingly, reflect a more personal, reflective quality than her earlier fiction, directly featuring, at times, other writers with whom she became friends over the years. Familiar themes are also revisited, lines between light and dark are blurred. Her prose is, as ever, sharp, essential, charged with spine-tingling beauty. And applied to biographical subjects—De Quincey, Keats and Marcel Schwob—it is quite wonderful indeed.

I invite you to read my full review of these new releases at Numéro Cinq. Here is a taste. Please link through at the end to read the rest. A second link leads to an excerpt:

Sacred Inertia | Review of I Am the Brother of XX & These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy — Joseph Schreiber

One might argue that Fleur Jaeggy does not write so much as channel language, allowing her words to form imaginary spaces that exist on an altered plane of experience. To read her is to inhabit, for a moment, that space—one that exists in the shadows, one that contains, to borrow an expression from one of her earlier stories, a certain “sacred inertia.” You can almost feel it. There is an unmistakable current of brisk, melancholic foreboding that courses beneath the surface of her prose. The chill can make you shudder, the stark beauty of her terse sentences catch your breath. Atmospheric. Disconcerting. And strangely alluring. It is a rare author who manages to sustain an emotionally intense voice that is at once distinct, abstracted, and tightly restrained. However, anyone who has fallen under the spell of Jaeggy’s fiction will know its undefinable appeal.

Of Italian-speaking Swiss heritage, Jaeggy was born in Zurich in 1940. Raised and educated in Switzerland, she moved to Rome when her studies were complete. There she met Thomas Bernhard and Ingeborg Bachmann. The latter would become an especially close friend. In 1968, she relocated to Milan to work with the famed publishing house, Adelphi Edizioni. She married writer and publisher Roberto Calasso, and established a reputation as a novelist and translator over the following years. But it was her masterful fourth novel, I beati anni del castigo (1989), translated as Sweet Days of Discipline (Tim Parks, 1991), that introduced her to an English speaking audience. Exquisitely spare, this subtly disturbing tale of obsession set in a boarding school in the Swiss Alps, examines themes that continue to resurface in her work: familial dysfunction, emotional detachment, and a preternatural obsession with sadness or, as her narrator so poignantly puts it, the “pleasure of disappointment.”

Continue reading here:

Read the story “The Black Lace Veil” here:

7 thoughts on “Fans of Fleur Jaeggy rejoice: A link to my review of I Am the Brother of XX and These Possible Lives at Numéro Cinq

  1. I’ve read SS Proleterka – a rather strange,unsettling book – but lacked the time to write about it. I have a copy of I am the Brother of XX thanks to my And Other Stories subscription – I plan to read it next month (I’ll wait until then to read you full review – you tend to be very persuasive!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unsettling is her trademark. 🙂 SS Proleterka is the one book of her I don’t have but understand it is the most autobiographical. Once you have read XX there is an interesting (and exceptionally rare) interview with Jaeggy linked to my review.

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  2. “It is a rare author who manages to sustain an emotionally intense voice that is at once distinct, abstracted, and tightly restrained.”

    Yes, I believe you’ve nailed it right there. Excellent review of these two books– I look forward to reading them both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Because I don’t have a formal background in literary criticism, the question that always guides me in a formal review like this is: “what is really interesting about what the author is doing?” The craft of a writer like Jaeggy is hard to describe—so elusive.

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      • I love how equally elusive and reserved she is in the TANK interview, too. Yet so charming at the same time. Finding that interview link in your review was a pleasant surprise. Glad you included it.

        Liked by 1 person

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