‘To The Back of Beyond’ by Peter Stamm – Walking Away From Home

 

‘To The Back of Beyond’ by Peter Stamm   (2017) – 140 pages    Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann

Have you ever wondered what kind of adventures you would run into if you just walked away from your home and your family with no destination in mind? You don’t even tell anyone where you are going.  You just walk off on the spur of the moment for no particular reason.  Things were going good with the family but you just had the sudden urge to get away.

In ‘To The Back of Beyond’, there is no discord in this Swiss family, no easy explanation why Thomas decided to leave his comfortable home. His reasons for leaving are inscrutable, even to himself. Instead he just wanders off after returning from the family summer holiday.

Of course, in real life there would be a ton of obstacles to a man walking away and disappearing like that, but Peter Stamm with his quiet precision makes us believe that this could really happen.  The story takes on the quality and existential feel of an allegory.

His wife Astrid is not angry at him at all which to me is another unreal aspect of the story, and she reflects about Thomas:

“He had no close friends; his superficial relationships to colleagues at work, his clients, and his teammates seemed to be enough for him.  Neither of them had an especially active social life, and since the children, they hardly ever went out in the evenings.” 

Days go by, and Thomas doesn’t return. Astrid doesn’t panic even when the police come to the house and look in every room to make sure that he isn’t lying dead somewhere having done himself in.  Instead Astrid covers for him at his job, telling his workplace that he has shingles.

So we have this man walking through the woods and towns near his home.  He rarely encounters anyone as he tries to avoid people as much as he can.  The few people he does encounter seemed to me like oases of interest.  This being Switzerland, he eventually encounters the Alps Mountains.

The scenes in the novel alternate between those with Thomas on his massive strenuous walk and those with his wife Astrid and their kids at home.  The scenes involving Thomas are of a man who is mostly alone in nature.  I know there are some readers who welcome physical descriptions of rocks and karst and tarn and vegetation in their stories, but I am not one of them.  I found the excessive natural description somewhat tiresome and found myself looking forward to the scenes involving Astrid which were more sociable.

The bottom line is that Peter Stamm has achieved a quiet allegory about a patient understanding wife and the restless energy of her husband or perhaps of all men, but I wasn’t quite in the patient mood for a quiet allegory in nature myself.

 

Grade :   B   

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Amanda Lohrey wrote a book rather like this: it’s called A Short History of Richard Kline (see https://anzlitlovers.com/2015/03/04/a-short-history-of-richard-kline-by-amanda-lohrey/). But her focus is more on his ill-defined discontent, how he doesn’t really know why he’s fed up.
    Did you know that when there are major disasters there are always some people who take advantage of them to disappear? Apparently one of the reasons the 9/11 death count was lowered was because some people took off – escaping failed relationships, intolerable jobs, debts, and police interest in their activities. Terribly cruel to the people left behind, always wondering what happened to them…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      As you know, I consider Patrick White to be the best fiction writer ever, so for Amanda Lohrey to win the Patrick White Award is very prestigious to me. If I lived in Australia, I would be on the lookout for who won the Patrick White Award every year.
      One big difference between your Lohrey novel and this one by Peter Stamm is that the Lohrey novel seems to go deep psychologically while ‘The Back of Beyond’ is all on the surface. ‘The Back of Beyond’ is a quite short novel, and the theme seems to be that even though the guy leaves that doesn’t mean the family wasn’t happy and that doesn’t mean he didn’t love them anyhow. So instead of any psychological intensity we get truckloads of nature description. Patrick White wouldn’t make that mistake. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

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