Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time – Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht (2006) Short Stories

I’m glad I discovered this short story collection on Andrew Blackman’s blog thanks to his intriguing review (here is the link). Austrian author Alois Hotschnig is well worth reading. While I don’t see any resemblance with Thomas Bernhardt as some critics did (despite the fact that they are both Austrian), I did find quite a lot of parallels with Kafka, Patricia Highsmith and with one of my favourite authors, Dino Buzzati, another master of the uncanny. Hotschnig describes situations and people who make you feel quite uneasy.

Freud has written an essay called Das Unheimliche which is usually translated by The Uncanny. “Uncanny” does however not capture the full meaning of the word “unheimlich”. Many books, essays and articles have been written about the difficulty to translate the word into other languages. What I’m getting at here is the fact that all of Hotschnig’s stories represent this concept. “Das Unheimliche” as defined by Freud signifies an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar. (If you are interested in Freud’s essay here is the English translation).

The collection contains 9 short stories which circle all around people who watch and wait. Just the fact that they don’t do anything but that their presence can be felt at any moment makes them scary. Usually we are afraid of people doing something bad to us but in these stories the fact that the characters are constantly present and stare and watch feels menacing. It gets even more creepy once you realize the narrator is part of this. He is someone who has given up on life and stares and watches. Hotschnig’s stories illustrate incredibly well what passive-aggressive is all about.

The title story of the English edition Maybe This Time captures another uncanny element. In this case it’s the presence of an absence. The parents of the narrator don’t go out anymore as they wait for Walter, the father’s brother, to appear. The children have never seen him. They know he exists but they never meet him. Either he has just gone or he will arrive after they went. Without being there he is omnipresent and the people in the story are like the soldiers in Buzzati’s Deserto dei Tartatri waiting for something that will never happen without realizing that their life will be over without having been lived.

Identity is another element that Hotschnig explores. In his last story called “Du kennst sie nicht, es sind Fremde” (which I would translate a s “You don’t know them, they are strangers”), a man is someone else every time he enters his apartment. The apartment changes as well and so do the people he meets. Depending on whom he faces, he is another person and after a while he chases this experience of seeing himself as someone else through other’s eyes.

I can’t say anything about the translation as I read the German original. They only thing that struck me was the title. Very often the title of a collection of short stories is equal to the title of one of the stories in the book. The German original is called Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht which means “This didn’t calm the children”. There is no story in the book with this title but the title itself has something unsettling, captures the mood of the book. Why the editor of the English translation chose the title  Maybe This Time which is also the  title of one of the stories, eludes me. It’s as if a tiny but significant part had been left out.

As abstract and intellectual as the themes may seem that Hotschnig explores, it’s important to add that his stories are full of vivid descriptions of everyday life. With a few words he evokes the quiet calm of a garden in the early morning which is only disturbed by the distant voices of children. It’s because these stories capture the familiar so well that the unfamiliar strikes us with so much force.

22 thoughts on “Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time – Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht (2006) Short Stories

  1. I tried to read your review yesterday but it had disappearef. Weird or should I say Unheimlich?
    That word has no equivalent in French either.
    I’m intrigued by these short stories. I’ll see if they’ve been translated into French.
    I observe that English and American often don’t translate literally book titles.

    • I hardly know any Stephen King but I thought the same had also written about it first but then I thought I would sound odd to admit that I find dolls super creepy. Not so odd after all. I think it’s a great cover. The English one is too nice.

  2. Wonderful review, Caroline! I saw your review earlier in Google Reader, but when I came to your blog to comment on it, it was not there – I was wondering what happened 🙂 I will add this book to my ‘TBR’ list. The cover of the German edition is scary!

  3. Hi Caroline, thanks for the link! It generated an uncanny pingback yesterday to a non-existent article, but it all makes sense now 🙂

    I don’t think your aversion to dolls is at all odd – in fact, I found the doll story by far the creepiest, and noticed that several other reviewers said the same thing. And as Vishy and Emma say, that German cover is very scary! And in the context you give of Freud’s essay, it makes perfect sense – dolls are, after all, close to the real thing but not quite close enough.

    That description “familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar” really does capture what is so unsettling about these stories. I will read the Freud essay (shamefully I have to admit that I printed it out, as I can’t seem to focus on longer articles without killing a tree).

    Great review, and it’s interesting about the title as well. It’s unusual to change it so radically, and I wonder if Hotschnig was part of that decision and how he felt about it. I’m sure he had a reason for choosing that particular title in the original German version, even though it’s not one of the story titles.

    • Thanks and you are welcome Adrew and sorry about the double publishing. I set the scheduling wrong.
      Maybe Hotschnig didn’t have Freud in mind at all but since Freud is alos Austrian, who knows? I saw yesterday that Nichloas Royle, the author Vishy is reading right now (about Shakespeare) has written a book called “The Uncanny” based on this essay by Freud. I’m not a Freud fan at all but this essay has a lot of interesting elements. I cannot read long articles online either. I wonder if Hotschnig had his say. Very often it is the editors choice but I think the title is somehow linked to the German cover and that was not in line with Pereine. I like the way the Pereine books look, so it is a valid choice from that point of view.

  4. I didn’t realize this was a collection of short stories. I’m more curious about it now actually. I like the idea of the uncanny and how it translates into fiction. I think my library just got this one in, so I’ll get to it eventually!

    • After all this double publishing and messing things up i thought I add Short Stories in the title. This keeps away a few readers but then again it is more clear. I also bought one of his novels and it seesm to be very different, more melancholic than uncanny which is interesting. I was wondering whether everything he writes is creepy.

  5. Okay, so that explains why I couldn’t access this post either. I wrote a huge academic chapter about the uncanny once as I found it such a fascinating concept. Have you read any Boileau-Narcejac novels? I seem to think that you have. They are brilliant at evoking the uncanny. These short stories sound intriguing too.

    • Yes, I messed it up. Sorry. How interesting that you wrote about the uncanny. It’s really fascinating, so much more subtle than pure horror. When you read Hotschnig you think at first that everything sounds so normal but then all of a sudden the start to drift.
      I think these are remarkable stories, they remind you of a lot of authors but still are very unique. I hope you will read and review them.

    • Very bizarre. She does a great job at choosing her titles. It’s amazing how many German authors who are excellent will never be translated. She picks at least a few of them. All short works which I don’t mind.

  6. Wow this is really intriguing! I want to read it too…but most defiinitely the English one.
    The story of that non-exixtance brother is the most that intrigued me.

    I have an anthalogy of Australian writer but I haven’t finished it yet 😦

  7. Hi Caroline, thank you for reviewing Maybe This Time (or indeed the German text) And thank you for the kind remarks about the choice of the Peirene titles.
    The stories in this collection deal with adults who have lost their identity and/or struggle to keep hold of it. If that is happening in the adult world, it of course leaves a child’s world unstable, which is what the German title refers to. In English we decided not to use this title because it could have easily evoked connotations of child abuse etc, esp.since these are Austrian short-stories.This is not a connotation the author intended, nor did I feel it is a suitable connotation for the collection. Maybe This Time is the first part of the title of the fourth story. It captures the tone of uncertainty that runs through all the stories. And uncertainty is also a strong flavour in Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht – because it raises the question “what didn’t calm the children?” similar to the question raised by Maybe This Time – “what’s happening maybe this time?”

    • Hi Meike, thanks a lot for visiting. I’m always curious about the choice to change a title for a translation. The way you explain it makes perfect sense. I didn’t think of this link with child abuse at all. That is most certainly not what Hotschnig had in mind. People are often intrigued by covers. Sometimes the translation keeps the same cover. Pereine titles are very aesthetical and easily recognizable which, I’m very sure, is part of their appeal. And the choices are great. (I read Delius and Olmi when they came out in Germany and France respectively.)

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