Winters Garten (Valerie Fritsch)

Winters Garten (translates literally to Winter’s Garden) is a novel by Valerie Fritsch. As far as I know, it has not been translated into English.
Finished on: 7.1.2017

Anton Winter spent a lot of his childhood at his grandparents’ house and garden. Now he’s an ornithologist in his fourties and looks at the ruins of a city in a world devastated by war. He is a loner, but when he happens to meet Friederike, he falls in love. He starts working with her at a birthing clinic and they get closer. But with the end of the world fast approaching, they have very little future, only the hopes that fill their present.

Winters Garten is Literature-with-a-capital-L and while I loved to get a speculative fiction novel from Austria, I couldn’t really get into that literary style that – to me – felt like it was trying too hard.

Winters Garten got a lot of praise, especially for its language. But for me the artificiality of the language, the flowery phrases that have a certain old timey stiffness about them, didn’t feel all that beautiful. In fact, I usually mark sentences and phrases I like in the books I read – and there is not a single mark in my copy of Winters Garten.

The novel is reminiscent of Saramago’s Blindness, both in tone and the (vagueness of its) setting. And especially the setting was a little disappointing for me. We know practically nothing about the city’s location apart from the fact that it’s next to the sea which, of course, means that it’s definitely not in Austria. And when I read Austrian fiction, I like it to be set in Austria, to feel Austrian, to see my everyday experiences reflected in the world I see on the page. There is nothing of that in Winters Garten. Especially paired with the language that strives so hard to be literary. German literary language means that there can be no trace of any regionality (in the most cases. I wish it wasn’t so). And since language is always regional, what that usually amounts to is that the language sounds not only sterile, but Germany-German.

With artful, but too obviously constructed language, setting and characters, and some heavyhanded symbolism, there wasn’t much that kept me interested in the book, as much as I would have liked it to be. And by now, only a few months after having read it, I can barely remember much of it at all.

Summarizing: Austrian speculative fiction should be supported, so if that sounds like your thing, give it a try and let me know if you could get more into the novel than I did.

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