cover image Old Rendering Plant

Old Rendering Plant

Wolfgang Hilbig, trans. from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole. Two Lines (PGW, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-931883-67-2

Hilbig evokes a vivid and unsettling atmosphere in his slim but dense novel, the third of his titles to be translated into English by Cole (after The Sleep of the Righteous and ‘I’), a sinuous meditation on a landscape haunted by a horrific past. Set in an unspecified town in the German countryside, the book is narrated by an unnamed middle-aged male, self-described as an “outsider,” who has earned, through his peculiar inclinations, the disapproval of peers and family alike. His singular and alienating preoccupation is with the woodsy landscapes surrounding his hometown, which he takes pains to illustrate in meticulous—and poetic—detail. Through the narrator’s senses, the novel creates a vivid and unsettling portrait of the area’s factories, ponds, brooks, and vegetation. As a child, the narrator says, he roamed this land freely, exploring its particulars while aware of its reputation for danger. Approaching adulthood, he explains, he took an interest in Germania II, an old plant where “animals were rendered to make the fats contained in soap” and that employs dejected and cast-off men. The plant is a representation of the unnamed yet ubiquitous horror of the town’s past; the plant’s stench is so nauseating and inescapable it is taken for granted by the citizens as part of their heritage. What this volume lacks in character and plot development, it makes up for in its ability to capture the uncanny mood and feel of a community burdened by history. (Nov.)