cover image Quiet Places: Collected Essays

Quiet Places: Collected Essays

Peter Handke, trans. from the German by Krishna Winston and Ralph Manheim. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-12559-2

The persistence of memory, a sense of alienation from oneself, and self-consciousness about one’s writing process all come to the fore in these erudite essays from Nobel Prize winner Handke (The Moravian Night). In “Essay on Tiredness,” he lays out different sorts of exhaustion, including that of farmhands, school children, and the “perpetually tired hero” Don Juan, while “Essay on the Jukebox” offers commentary on the author’s trouble in getting to work on that very “long-planned essay on jukeboxes.” The “Essay on Quiet Places,” meanwhile, is an obsessive meditation on the nature of such spaces as bathrooms and the refuge they offer, and in “Essay on a Mushroom Maniac,” which is nearer to a novella than an essay, Handke’s friend, a lawyer, is on the hunt for the ineffable thing that might make sense out of the world. Mushroom hunting becomes a way of unraveling life’s complexities, to the point that the lawyer slowly realizes that he has been “beautifully deluded.” Handke’s essays are existential and weighty, his writing wordy and winding, and he’s always richly imaginative. This is as challenging as it is playful. (Mar.)