Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Hell Hath No Fury by Ingrid Noll

published in 1991 in German

English translation by Ian Mitchell published 1996








I had a bath, washed my hair and blow-dried it. Witold wouldn’t be coming in the morning, since he had to be in school. But as to whether he would arrive immediately after lunch or not until later, I could only guess. From two in the afternoon, I was waiting, in my silken pyjamas; I put away my tea-cup, fetched it out again, cleaned my teeth once more. By six I was extremely edgy....

At last, at eight, he arrived…

‘Come on,’ he said, ‘don’t hang around in the kitchen, lie down on the sofa. I’ll stay with you for a few minutes.’

In my silk nightwear, I tried to assume as decorative a pose as possible, a bit like Tischbein’s painting of Goethe in the Campagna.

‘I looked awful yesterday, you must have been disgusted by the sight of me,’ I murmured.

‘Don’t worry yourself, that’s how everybody looks when they’re in a bad way.’ Witold really did seem to pay precious little attention to my appearance.



observations: This is a strange and very funny book, as the excerpt above might suggest. The painting mentioned is famous in Germany and would be easily imagined by most of Noll’s readers, and it is indeed a splendid image for anyone to bring to mind.

The narrator (known as Rosie, or Rosemarie, or Thyra) is a single woman in a dull job who thinks of herself as very old (in her 50s: can’t agree that this is old…) and decides to make one last grab for happiness and adventure. She more or less decides to fall in love with Witold, her visitor above, and more or less decides to be obsessional and criminal about the relationship. People standing in her way are not going to be blocking her for very long.

She has a very odd tone: she’s not really an unreliable narrator, she is all too reliably reporting what she has done, but there is a clever distance between her flat descriptions of what she has done, and then her getting very upset by some slight from one of the people in her life. She sweeps through some events, and then changes to a very detailed description of others. She is mad as a box of frogs, and rather wonderful. She has something of the older protagonist in Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, and something of the artist Nora in Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.

As part of her personal makeover, she buys herself a wine-red velvet skirt and a crepe-de-chine blouse ‘with a heraldic pattern’. I couldn’t really work out what that pattern would be.

The picture is the one mentioned in the text, from Wikimedia Commons.

12 comments:

  1. Not feeling it today - only tomorrow left to find some commonality! CCL is off on his holidays then for a week.

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    1. I think you might enjoy this one more than you think, but I won't try to persuade you as you have enough going on.... Holidays, eh? I hope you're taking a big stack of books with you.

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  2. Moira, I was thinking how well you fit the image to the excerpt, which is indeed funny, and wondered how you managed to find some unusual books to read and review. I'd read this book if I came across it.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Prashant. My brother passed this one on to me - I don't know where he discovered it. Serendipity is very important in book finding, I think.

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    2. I think this made its way through all three of CiB's brothers first. One of whom read it in the original German, and thought the same as me: that the first 80 or 100 pages are quite flat and straightforward, giving no hints as to the marvellous subtle/deadpan humour that leaks into the remainder.

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    3. Well that was news to me. I think I had forgotten anything that was said to me about it when it was handed over...

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  3. Moira - Rosie/Rosemary/Thyra does sound like an odd duck. And sometimes that works really well. Interesting point about the 'unreliable' aspect of her narration. There's a fine line isn't there between 'unreliable' as we often think of it and that distance you've described. Interesting.... The dialogue seems to flow well, and I like the writing style. Those enough can draw a person in.

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    1. It's an interesting and unusual book, Margot, and doesn't quite resemble anything else - but definitely enjoyable.

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  4. I am with Prashant. It sounds interesting and I would get it if I ran into it...but won't go hunting for it. So I am glad you have made me aware of the author.

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    1. Keep it in mind in case you do see it Tracy - it's an unusual and funny read.

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  5. I enjoyed this book very much. One cannot but laugh about Rosemarie's energy to remove all obstacles between herself and her adored love interest - who is not so interesting as she first thought. The writing reminded me of Patricia Highsmith; those who like her might as well like Noll. My own review: http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=449

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    1. Yes, as narrators go she is a doozie, and the comparison with Highsmith is apt - though I like her more, and find her funnier, than Highsmith.

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