There is this incomparable feeling when you hear that your favorite author comes out with a new book.
It is exciting as you see things unfollowed on the pages you know you’ve loved before.
It leaves you anxious, too. How will it compare to previous works?
This is how I felt when I held the new Peter Stamm in my hands, “Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt”. Having only read two books by him previously, I still have quite the back-catalogue to read, but getting something completely fresh was wonderful.
Reading the critics, I saw comparisons drawn to “Agnes”, his debut novel. Story-wise, character wise, Stamm himself mentioned it could even be possible that the main character in this book wrote Agnes.
I got anxious. Agnes is not just a book, it’s my favorite book of all time. Was I ready for this meta reading experience?
Back then, I wasn’t even aware how meta it would get for me personally…
“Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt” tells the story of Christoph, a writer, author of a book long forgotten. His life gets turned upside down when he not only meets his doppelgänger Chris, but also the doppelgänger of the woman who changed his whole life forever, Magdalena.
He meets up with young Lena, wanting to tell her the story and they go on a journey through Stockholm, physically, but also in their minds as they unfold how similar their lives are.
Now, the doppelgänger motif is not new in the world of literature. Questions such as “Is our life just the same old story someone lived before us, repeating itself over time?” “How you unique are our lives?” “Do we live for the future and understand in retrospective?”
“If we could relive our life through another person, would we interfere to change what we did in our life?”
But it’s not just the unique Peter Stamm voice that gives it this charming twist, it’s the addition of writing that makes it so masterfully done and such a personal read for myself.
Yes, there were several meta moments concerning this book, Stamm’s life and especially Agnes. It could easily be that the mysterious book written by Christoph could be Agnes. Agnes is the story of love, the blurry lines between fiction and reality, a story of turning cold and of a disappearance. There are several hints to that in this story.
For me personally, this got even more meta, as I am a writer myself.
I had to stop several times, wondering how much of my life I will put and even have already put into my writing.
Is this something I am okay with? Does it scare me how much of myself is in there? Will my writing change now that I’m aware of that?
Peter Stamm not only has a writing style that can’t easily be topped for me, but he is constantly raising questions in my mind to which I will hopefully find answers some time, maybe through my own writing, and transforming me into a different person than I was before.