I have to say until about three quarters of the way into this I wasn’t sure how much I liked this novel. Now I do not mean I thought it was a bad novel. The writing is beautifully the setting is wonderful but I didn’t like the characters of which for a lot of it there are only two. However with the arrival of the third character the plot suddenly speeded up and produced an ending that I hadn’t expected at all. Isn’t it funny how a character can make you feel about a book? In fact I think that could be a future blog… anyway the book.
The novel begins with Ernest who is work obsessive, he never really speaks to his family, bar his cousin Julia, and isn’t particularly friendly with any of his co-workers he likes to keep his life a solitary one (the whole way through I wanted to know what had made him that way) out of the blue he receives a letter from an old friend Jakob. He hasn’t seen Jakob for over thirty years since the mid 1930’s when he came to work in the same hotel in the Swiss mountains.
What follows is quite a sad and desolate study of love. From when they meet Ernest is uncontrollably taken with Jakob to the point of nearing obsession and when they do become lovers he becomes like an addiction. However we know from the start that suddenly Jakob left what we don’t know is why. You need to read the book to find out that part. I found the relationship between the men incredibly well written; I thought the insight as to what it was like to be gay in that era was quite insightful as well. I would have liked to have seen more reaction to it as the book focuses in a very insular way on just the two men at first.
Jakob I have to admit I didn’t like to read, I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t take to him at all. He isn’t a particularly nice character however sometimes we all love a good villain. I didn’t understand why he was the way he was, in fact that could actually be applied to Ernest and his background too, I wanted to know a lot more about them than I was given. I loved the parts with Ernest’s cousin Julia in, but they still didn’t open up his past or nature of his character any further which was saddening for me. Three quarters of the way through the book another character is introduced a long with a quite sudden and shocking twist to the plot who is a character with real background and who I enjoyed reading more.
The final quarter of the book is what made me think that this was something special as I had been on the fence with this novel until then. The pace suddenly picks up, I don’t know if it’s the original or the translation but though the prose is stunning it’s actually quite repetitive in parts. I would recommend people give this a go as its something different. I saw a review that this is a gay version of ‘Remains of the Day’ I wouldn’t say that by any means (because I haven’t read it – shocking I know), I think from what I do know of them, they are quite different. What it is however is a look at how love can go wrong, become obsession and the consequences of that.