I read the German translation of “Mr. Gwyn” by Annette Kopetzki & I’ve got to say that after this first book as an intro to the author, I’m very curious about discovering other novels by Alessandro Baricco!
I got through “Mr. Gwyn” in almost just a single day, one reason being that I was stuck at home sick but more importantly because the story drew me in completely & I didn’t want to stop reading it. For the “plot lovers” among you readers, the ones who enjoy roller-coaster-ride-like twists & turns, as a warning straight ahead, you’re probably not going to enjoy it. This book is much more about the characters, the subtleties, the style & the beauty of writing. The author manages to hook you with all that & even though you know there probably isn’t any groundbreaking ending in sight that you would be curious to finally have revealed, you still don’t want to put it down (which is one of my “must have qualities” in order to rate a book with 4 or 5 out of 5 stars). It pulls you in & captivates you in its world, the short chapters forming a contrast to the slow & dreamy events taking their flow. I found myself transported directly into the story while reading it, enveloped into a hazy dream-like state. It reminded me of the setting & the absurdities of some of Woody Allen’s movies, the way the characters were portrayed & the way the story-line rolled out.
Besides that, one of my favourite things about the book was surely the language. I bet it must be even more beautiful in its original Italian since even in German, the translator managed to make it sound absolutely magical. I found myself re-reading phrases because I was so drawn into the visual comparisons of mundane actions or views. Here are some examples to illustrate Alessandro Baricco’s style of writing (the quotes are in German, since I had that version of the book):
- comparing the feeling of relief to the sensation of when the humming sound of a refrigerator suddenly stops & envelops the whole room in quietness, not knowing what to do with this sudden silence
“Dann werde ich die gleiche Erleichterung verspüren, wenn in einem Raum der Motor des Kühlschranks ausgeht, aber auch das gleiche unvermeidliche Erschrecken und das Gefühl, das Sie sicher kennen, nicht genau zu wissen, was man mit dieser plötzlichen Stille anfangen soll (…).” (p. 25)
- stacking up thoughts in your head, as if in the shape of freshly ironed sheets
“John (…) machte sich keine Notizen, doch er schien alle Informationen in einem Winkel seines Geistes zu stapeln wie frisch gebügelte Laken.” (p. 55)
- the way the smells, the accumulating dust & dirt transformed a studio into something similar to a completely still animal in its winter sleep
“Die Gerüche im Atelier, der Staub, der sich auf jeden Gegenstand legte, der Schmutz, dem niemand Widerstand entgegensetzte – all das vermittelte den Eindruck eines langsam atmenden Tiers im Winterschlaf, das für den Rest der Welt gestorben war.” (p. 105)
- another animalistic comparison, how the first insecure steps outdoors feel like the ones of a newly born animal
“Wie jeden Abend waren ihre ersten Schritte auf der Straße unsicher wie die eines neugeborenen Tieres.” (p. 108)
- how blue ink captures the horror of a hospital name on paper, reminding you of the fleeting magic of life
“Während er zuschaute, wie die blaue Tinte den Horror eines Krankenhausnamens und die trockene Prosa einer Adresse auf dem Papier festhielt, wurde er daran erinnert, wie unsagbar flüchtig jeder Zauber ist und wie schnell das Leben in seiner räuberischen Gier.” (p. 160)
- how things that we live with get painted with a certain color that represents our feelings & how they fade into memories under the setting sun
“Sie dachte daran, dass man auf Dinge, mit denen man lebt, jedes Mal, einem feinen Anstrich gleich, die Farbe bestimmter Gefühle hinterlässt, die unter der Sonne zu Erinnerungen verblassten.” (p. 315)
The author’s attention to detail, the exquisite language & a little touch of absurdity made this an exceptionally entertaining & quick to get through read. I would suggest it to those who are looking for a linguistically well written novel in between their ambitious non-fiction reads.