cover image Malina


Ingeborg Bachmann. Holmes & Meier Publishers, $27.5 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-8419-1192-5

This demanding work contains flashes of great beauty and insight but is ultimately marred by Bachmann's cryptic, fragmented prose and internalized story line that is based entirely on the narrator's emotional responses to events conveyed only obliquely to the reader. Part of the problem derives from the veiled yet critical references to Austrian history, which are satisfactorily explained only in the excellent afterword. Also difficult is the subject matter itself: the inability of language to express our deepest emotions and Bachmann's own frustrating struggle to create a new, all-encompassing prose. Like the author, who was ambivalent about her success as one of Austria's most influential postwar writers, the narrator is in a personal and professional crisis as she begins a new book. The novel loosely chronicles her love affairs with two men, the life-affirming Ivan, a Hungarian who begs the author to write about joy rather than express her own dark vision of humanity, and Malina, the introverted man she lives with. The narrator's playful attempt to act as a companion and `` wife'' to Ivan ends disastrously, with her own personality disintegrating. She becomes dependent on Malina who, as her alter ego, first leads her through a terrifying fantasy sequence about her father, and then, quite literally absorbs her into his own personality. First published in 1971, Bachmann's only novel is being reissued posthumously as part of the Modern German Voices series. (Oct.)