The execution of my plan to read one translated book per Bundesland during GLM has been years in the planning. Saarland was one of the sticking points, and it was only with the aid of the London Goethe Institute (thank you Annemarie) that I managed to track down today’s subject for review.
Ludwig Harig (1927-2018) born in Sulzbach was of an exceptionally good vintage. (1927: My mum, Martin Walser, Gunter Grass among others.) However, he was not part of the Gruppe 47, in fact he stayed clear of well-known literary movements, preferring to forge his own paths. The Trip to Bordeaux was published by Small Press Distribution as part of their DICHTEN= series, which specifically seeks out work of an experimental nature.
And so this account of a fortnight in Bordeaux is unlike any other holiday journal. It is a series of vignettes of specific moments: the journey there, drinking the first bottle of wine, a saga of who sits on which chair, sunset on the beach etc, interspersed with monologues from Montaigne, a famous former resident of the area. Now that is the sum total of my knowledge about Montaigne (Stefan’s Zweig’s biography of the man languishes on my shelves), and so I’m unable to comment on how clever Harig’s inventions are.
The contemporary narrative is only discerned by linking the vignettes together. Harig is totally concerned with language, playing with sentences, phases and words just for the sheer joy of it. For example:
That made me smile. It even induced me to send off for a copy in German, because I want to see the original. In other places Harig includes poems, dialogues, and some prose passages are really beautiful.
There were other sections though where I felt the conceit forced and the repetition monotonous. There were others when I was completely confused, particularly when reading the Montaigne sections. I really need to pull that biography down from the shelves ….
All in all a very mixed bag.
Sounds interesting! Does anything actually happen on the holiday, or is it all about the beauty of the prose and the allusions to Montaigne?
Well, they visit places, drink wine, play on the beach. Go to Montaigne’s tower. Then they go home. Pretty standard holiday, really, So I would say the latter.
It’s a small world! Ludwig Harig was for a short time my teacher in elementary school. My first year in school was his last, if I recall correctly. A very friendly man and a good teacher, I liked him a lot. This book is from his early period when he was heavily interested in experimental writing (he was also a member of OULIPO and translator of Raymond Queneau; I saw him once in Sulzbach with Georges Perec who visited his German translator Eugen Helmle, a close friend of Harig.). Harig’s later works are more accessible for readers (for example “Ordnung ist das ganze Leben”).