Winnie and Wolf Hardcover – Nov 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Veteran British biographer and novelist Wilson's plodding latest concerns the private life of Adolf Hitler (Wolf) and his friendship and affair with Winnie, the daughter-in-law of Richard Wagner. The novel opens in 1925 and is composed by an unnamed secretary to Winnie's husband. Though weighted down by detailed discussions of philosophy and the opera that so inspired Hitler, the narrative at times hums with life. Wilson offers a new way of viewing the charismatic (though sweating and flatulent) leader, who appears to the Wagner family as the savior who will raise up a starving and humiliated interwar Germany and who made you feel that the struggle would not have been worth it unless it had gone too far. Unfortunately, Wilson seems so intent on demonstrating the breadth of his knowledge and research that narrative technique feels like an afterthought. This dense and dry tale is unlikely to appeal to readers who aren't already at least armchair scholars of the era. (Nov.)
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"A tour de force of imagination and historical reconstruction. . . . unlike any other novel this year, and as well written as you would expect, it's a novel with substance."--The Independent (UK)
"A bold, ambitious piece of fiction."--The Guardian (UK)
"Winnie and Wolf is a novel rich in philosophical reference--Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, thorny as you like--and ruminative pleasures."--Evening Standard (London)
"An extraordinary work whose achievements are almost Wagnerian in scale."--The Daily Maily (UK)
"A feast for music lovers."--Kirkus Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The premise, that Winifred carried on an affair with Hitler and bore his child, is absurd, but it doesn't matter. The author's observations about life in Bayreuth after it was usurped by Hitler is accurate to the finest detail. I strongly recommend reading it after you've finished Brigitte Hamann's suberb Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth. You will see how faithful the novel is to history, and you will have more context to understand the cast of characters such as Hans Tietjen, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Friedelind Wagner, etc.
Mesmerizing, hypnotic, touching and ripe with keen insights into German history and philosophy and music, not to mention human nature.... Well, what more can we ask for? As I headed into the last 50 pages or so I started to read it more slowly, sometimes reading only one or two pages a night before bedtime, because I didn't want it to end. A book to cherish.
Wilson hangs his novel on a framework of having the novel writen as a memoir of 'N', Siegfried and then Winifred's personal assistant which N later in life will give to his adopted daughter the biological child of Winnie and Hitler. By using this device we become privy to private conversations between Winnie and Hitler, Winnie and Tietjen, Winnie and Toscanni. But more importantly it makes vivid the everyday life of Germans in Weimar Germany who then witness and then for the most part deliriously support the rise of their ultimate Leader, Hitler and Nazism. N finds himself torn between his love of Winnie and of Wagner, and his ambivalent feelings towards the charismatic Uncle Wolf who reguarly visits Bayreuth and who reads fairy tales to the Wagner children and adores dogs. It is N's theory that the Uncle Wolf of Bayreuth and the Hitler of Munich and Berlin are two conflicting beings inhabiting one body, an interesting psychological premise.
The device of the narrator works superbly in allowing the reader to view the rise of Hitler through the eyes of everyday Germans. However, the premise of Winnie's and Hitler's 'love' child seems silly and unnecessary. Did the author think such an outrageous premise would spark the book buying public to purchase more books? If so he is wrong. This is definitely not a book for the general reader, but for those who are already well acquainted with the music of Wagner, the history of the Bayreuth Festival and the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler.