cover image Perlmann’s Silence

Perlmann’s Silence

Pascal Mercier, trans. from the German by Shaun Whiteside. Grove, $25 (624p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1957-5

Philosophy professor Mercier’s second novel, originally published in Germany in 1995, explores depression and the desperation born of procrastination. Philipp Perlmann, a prominent professor and linguist, is in charge of a monthlong academic conference at a retreat outside the seaside town of Rapallo, Italy. Each participant must debut a new theory, and Philipp—paralyzed with ennui and writer’s block—relies on sleeping pills, a local trattoria, and his memories as means of escape. Then, after translating a Russian colleague’s manuscript, Philipp decides to pass it off as his own to meet the conference deadline. When the colleague unexpectedly decides to join the group, Philipp takes extraordinary measures to protect his secret. Unfortunately, as readers journey through his cowardice and deteriorating mental state—and the novel’s endless exposition—Philipp proves both unreliable and unlikable. Even more introspective than Night Train to Lisbon, Mercier has allowed his protagonist’s rumination to bury the novel’s other elements. (Jan.)