Die Vergiftung [The Poisoning] (Maria Lazar)

Die Vergiftung is the first novel by Maria Lazar [German link]. [I am not aware of an English translation of the novel.]
Finished on: 12.11.2021

Ruth is 20 years old. She lives with her mother, her brother and her sister, but she doesn’t get along with any of them. Nor does she like their striving for the bourgeois ideals, or at least the appearance of those ideals. The only member of her family she relates to, at least a little, is her Uncle Gustav. Ruth herself just broke up with her older lover, a chemist, and is reeling, even more so when she realizes that her mother had an affair with the same man. With nobody to really turn to and feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere, Ruth drifts through encounters shaped by ambivalence.

Die Vergiftung is an excellent novel, a strong debut with evocative language in a lyrical style that makes sure you feel everything that Ruth is feeling. I was really impressed by it.

The dark blue book cover with the silhouette of a woman with a billowing skirt in a slightly lighter blue. The "I" in the book title is a syringe.

Die Vergiftung, and in fact Maria Lazar’s work entirely, was almost completely forgotten, despite being rather successful and critically acclaimed as an author. Plus, if the book jacket is to be believed, it’s probably the only genuinely expressionistic novel by a female Austrian, so I’d say it’s definitely relevant. It just shows how easily female writers are discarded, if not in their lifetime, then by history.

Fortunately, Lazar was re-discovered and re-published, and after reading Die Vergiftung, I’m really looking forward to discovering the rest of her work for myself. Die Vergiftung, her debut, is an evocative read that impresses with the images it creates. It certainly conjures up a mood and gives us a clear feeling of Ruth’s state, albeit a less clear grasp of what exactly is going on in her head. Not that I think that would have been necessary. In fact, it’s kind of the point of the novel and the way it was written.

Despite its almost lyrical and disrupted nature, it’s a cutting criticism of the bourgoisie at the end of the 19th century in Austria, and the bigotry that Ruth finds everywhere – even in herself. She can’t stand it, but she also can’t shake off her upbringing and change her ways. But at the end of the novel, she does seem to able to leave at least some of her past behind – and maybe find more possibilities in life than repeat her family’s mistakes.

Summarizing: Really good.

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