‘You Should Have Left’ by Daniel Kehlmann – A Family Falling Apart


‘You Should Have Left’ by Daniel Kehlmann   (2016) – 111 pages                   Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin

Since I am a big fan of the four previous Daniel Kehlmann novels that I have read, ‘Measuring the World’ and ‘Fame’ and ‘F’ and ‘Tyll’, I must warn you not to start with this novella ‘You Should Have Left’ as your first Daniel Kehlmann read. It does not represent his real talents.

In ‘You Should Have Left’, our narrator writer is working on a screenplay, a comedy called “Besties 2” about two young teenage girls Jana and Ella. It’s a sequel. Our young writer is on Alpine holiday with his wife Susanna and four year-old daughter Esther, but he’s also here to work on that screenplay.

The novella starts out warm and playful as Kehlmann works usually do, and I started out really into reading it. Of course the screenplay he is writing is typical bad Hollywood fare, but he has to go through with it.

In a movie it’s funny when a life falls apart, because the people say clever things while it’s happening, but in reality it’s only dismal and repugnant,”

Lives fall apart. That’s what actually happens in this novella. Soon things aren’t at all warm and playful. Our narrator surreptitiously listens to the messages on his wife’s cell phone, which, I suppose, is always a terrible thing to do. His wife Susanna leaves.

Then we have scenes of quiet horror, strange men showing up unexpectedly in rooms, pictures on the wall that weren’t there before, a woman shouting “Get away quickly” as he drives by in his car. However to me these edgy scenes were unconvincing, because they didn’t fit the warm beginning or lead anywhere. One time after he leaves his daughter’s room, he sees a strange man in his daughter’s room on the child monitor and then realizes it is himself, and the camera must have a time delay.

Although parts of this novella were effective and fun to read, it ultimately left me lost as to what was going on. It is too fragmented. I am not sure what really happened or what point the author was trying to make. It starts out lighthearted, but the later parts containing elements of horror seemed out of place.


Grade:    B-



5 responses to this post.

  1. You know I’m a big Kehlmann fan too, and I agree with you – this is not the right place to start. I quite enjoyed it and found it effectively creepy, but compared with his other books, it was a bit slight. It felt to me that he was having fun with the genre.

    Liked by 1 person


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