Crossing the Sierra de Gredos: A Novel Hardcover – Jul 10 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
In the atmospheric latest from Handke (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, etc.), a nameless female banker in a nameless northern European city decides for obscure reasons to repeat a journey to Spain she took years before, and to commission a nameless author from La Mancha to write her biography. The journey provides a hopscotch structure for the drifting narrative, marked by fantastic events that may or may not be taking place and by speculative conversations with the dreamlike figures the woman meets. As she travels, the woman is stalked, possibly, by a half-brother whose name may or may not be Vladimir. When the woman arrives in La Mancha, she dictates the details of her life to the writer, with no particular regard for order or veracity. An intrusive narrative voice interjects with rhetorical questions, exclamations and rambling philosophical asides. Much time is spent either denying the truth of what's just been said or in defining events, people or objects through a series of overturning negations. Though beautiful in spots and sometimes witty, the novel is inconsistent and repetitive. For die-hard Handke fans, the appeal of this metafictional fable is in its playful surrender to chance. (July)
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“The artistry of Peter Handke's language may well be unsurpassed among contemporary writers in German. His prose is at once serpentine and spare, dreamlike and exacting. In his latest novel translated into English, Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, the Austrian author richly demonstrates his literary gifts, and the translator, Krishna Winston, sensitively renders the mesmerizing beauty of his style. In this book, as in much of Handke's previous work, the most stirring passages disclose the inherent strangeness of the world.” ―Ross Benjamin, Bookforum
“A complex quest for meaning . . . Yeats called it ‘the fascination of what's difficult.' Nobody writing today surpasses Peter Handke at trying to make sense of it all.” ―Kirkus
“Hanke's power of observation and his seemingly casual tone, in which every word bears indispensable weight, are as mesmerizing as ever . . . A Handke tale invites active reading, speculation rather than passive absorption . . . It is [his] loving gaze, honed by time and discipline that shows readers the way out again into the world's prolific and astonishing strangeness.” ―Kai Maristed, The New York Times Book Review on Peter Handke
“Numerous pleasures await the reader who delves into the fabric of Handke's prose . . . A subtle writer of unostentatious delicacy, Handke excels at fiction that, as it grows, coils around itself like wisteria . . . This is where the French New Novel might have gone if pushed.” ―Paul West, Washington Post Book World on Peter HandkeSee all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I'm personally uncomfortable with the term avant-garde; I prefer to think the very best writers, from Joyce and Proust to the late Gilbert Sorrentino, are not only great craftsmen but formal innovators, re-inventing fiction and pressing language into service it simply hadn't performed before. Gauguin averred that if art isn't revolutionary, it's not art; whatever your definitions, literary art in its most vibrant forms needn't be further labeled. At any rate, Crossing the Sierra de Gredos is both typical, easily recognizable Handke and something new and full of surprises, recalling Chaucer and maybe Swift and Cervantes. Even paragraph by paragraph, there is a playful stylistic richness of invention. I was baffled by some passages, even extended passages--some seemingly satiric episodes escaped me entirely--but I was enraptured or delighted by others.
It is a testament to the power of this writer that, even though I have several books now waiting to be read that are surely excellent--short stories by Edward P. Jones, John Williams' Stoner, Solnit's Storming the Gates of Paradise, Seidel's Ooga-Booga, they all will probably be a step down from Handke.
So there may be some unevenness in Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, representing an attempt that's not fully successful, but Handke is Handke. Cymbeline can be regarded as inferior only in comparison with other Shakespeare plays, and Handke needn't be made to compete with himself. With apologies to the new translation of Pomuk's Black Book, even slightly-flawed Handke may be the best thing I read all year. So five stars.
Our heroine has asked an author to write a biography of her and the book is mainly structured as a dialog between the main character and her would-be biographer. She has an unusual quirk in that “images” appear to her, particularly images of past places and events and that somehow these images “protect” her. There is little or no actual plot and in this sense the book reminds me of many other books such as Immortality by Milan Kundera: Crossing is not so much a novel as it is a framework for the author to offer a series of mini essays on consumerism, advertising, modern-day relations with neighbors, bus trips, technology, tourist villages, etc. There is fantasy and occasional surrealism. For example, on a bus trip, when it is time for the passengers to re-board, the bus driver’s child walks up to the main character and punches her in the stomach. In another scene, an acquaintance of hers shoots and kills her husband at dinner in a restaurant. Both of these incidents are just mentioned in passing and not referred to again. It’s hard to know what to make of all this. The essays are thoughtful but all-in-all the book is overly long and at times borders on being a chore to read.