‘The Wall’ by Marlen Haushofer – A Tragedy or an Idyll?


‘The Wall’ by Marlen Haushofer   (1963) – 230 pages                     Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside


Probably my favorite events in the literary world are those when a publisher decides to rescue and republish a fiction or fictions by an author who has been nearly forgotten. The publishing of ‘The Wall’ is just such an event. Marlen Haushofer was a quite famous Austrian fiction writer in her time. She died in 1970.

In ‘The Wall’, a woman in her forties finds herself alone on one side of a glass wall while everyone on the other side of the wall has been killed by a nuclear explosion or accident.

What if you became totally isolated and could not see or communicate with any other person in the world? That would be a tragedy, right? However for this woman, her total isolation from other people becomes a pleasurable idyll.

She has her dog Lynx, her cow Bella, and her cats including Pearl. At first she wanted people to find her, but by the end of the first year she is so content and peaceful, she hopes no one will ever find her.

That these animals successfully have their babies becomes a major concern for her. A man in her position might not be as concerned with births. Soon the mother cat has kittens and the cow Bella has a calf. She has two grown daughters of her own and thus realizes the importance of childbirth.

Loving and looking after another creature is a very troublesome business, and much harder than killing and destruction. It takes twenty years to bring up a child, and ten seconds to kill it. It took a bull a year to grow big and strong, and a few strokes of an ax were enough to dispatch him.”

What if, instead of being isolated by herself and her animals, there were a man with her?

She realizes that she must occasionally shoot a deer in order for her and her animals to survive. It pains her to do so, but she does it. A man’s attitude toward shooting deer might be entirely different.

In any case he was physically stronger than I am, and I would have been dependent on him. Perhaps now he would be sitting around lazily in the hut, sending me off to do the work. The possibility of delegating work must be a great temptation for any man. And why should a man, without the fear of criticism, go on working at all? No, it’s better that I’m alone.”

There have been novels, including ‘Robinson Crusoe’ about a man surviving alone in nature, but this is the first I have found with a woman surviving alone in nature. This woman’s perspective on nature’s creatures differs entirely from a man’s perspective.

I applaud the publisher New Directions for bringing this perceptive novel ‘The Wall’ back to us.


Grade:   A




2 responses to this post.

  1. Very interesting review, Tony, particularly as I’ve been somewhat tempted by this one (I was afraid the animal stuff might get a little too graphic for me). As you point out, it’s fascinating to think that gender might define how we view (and treat) nature.
    Did you know that The New Yorker has included this among its best books of 2022 so far? https://www.newyorker.com/best-books-2022

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Janakay,
      So you had already heard of it. I did not find the animal stuff too graphic, and I’m fairly squeamish. I knew the New Yorker had a long article on ‘The Wall’ and Marlen Haushofer (which I perused to some extent), but I didn’t know they picked it as one of their best books of 2022 so far.
      When a publisher takes a chance on an old novel, it’s usually pretty good.

      Liked by 1 person


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