This elegant, beautifully nuanced suite of stories is so cleverly constructed with a lesser character from one story becoming the main character in the next. They almost had a Matryoshka doll feel to them although the stories did not diminish in size in any way. There was a pleasing cohesion to the work as a whole.
Five women, five very different women, inhabit these intersecting stories. Each woman had some kind of connection to the others. Thematically the book seeks to explore what it is to be a woman, examining their roles as daughters, mothers, wives, friends, partners, sisters, colleagues, and states associated with those roles and what remains when and if those roles are fulfilled.
The book is translated from the german by Jamie Bulloch who has done a sterling job. Interestingly, though, the german title ‘Die Liebe im Ernstfall’ translates literally as ‘Love in an Emergency’ which does capture the essence of the womens’ love experiences to a degree. It explores the balance between fulfilling the ‘accepted’ roles of woman hood and becoming or remaining your own person, retaining your individuality which, of course, poses some unenviable challenges.
It’s a very pertinent read with a contemporary feel and opens up many considerations of feminism in our 21st century world. The dynamic of being yourself whilst maintaining your place with family, friends and lovers is treated with a subtle sympathy that renders the stories very poignant.
Although there are five stories I never saw this as a book of short stories. I saw it as a complete entity of intertwined lives. There are relatable characters, some easier to like than others. I had a sense of the inevitable frequently as I read, almost that there were no satisfactory solutions to the dilemmas faced by the women. The concept of a freedom becomes a nebulous one and suggests that freedom almost become a prison when decisions are required that might threaten that freedom.
It’s a compelling read, evenly paced, palpably described and a book of thought rather than action. A book for our times, without a doubt. A thoughtful book that seems almost understated which somehow renders it all the more powerful.
Reviewed by Gill Chedgey
Published by MacLehose Press (29 April 2021)
Hardback, ISBN 978-1529406382