You know you’ve found yourself a keeper when your fiancé goes to London and you say ‘bring me back a souvenir’, and rather than bring you back some Union Jack emblazoned tat, he goes to the British Library and buys you a book and some bookmarks – he knows me so well!
This was one of those rare books that was so beautifully written that I was able to resist the urge to read it all in one go because I couldn’t bear for it to be over so quickly. I luxuriated in the beautiful poetry of the book for a few days, and I’m so glad I did, it was just fantastic – it’s clear why it’s on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist.
A Whole Life tells (unsurprisingly), the life story of a man called Andreas Egger, who starts off as an orphan arriving at his Uncle’s farm and becomes their unofficial servant, worked to the bone and beaten for any indiscretion, until one day he’s had enough and leaves their home to start a life on his own.
Egger’s life is in many ways ordinary; he has his own home, he finds work, he falls in love, marries a young woman named Marie. [WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS] But in many more ways, he leads an extraordinary life. The work that he does is for the main part very risky, his life with his new wife is tragically cut short, and he is sent to war as a young man; all experiences which change his outlook on life dramatically.
But if my favourite thing about the book is this extraordinary man and the life he lives, a very close second is the gorgeous prose which just draws you in so closely that you can feel like you’re in the mountains with Andreas. There were many pieces that were so beautiful that I had to break off and read them again and again to try and imprint them on my brain.
“Up here the ground was soft and the grass short and dark. Drops of water trembled on the tips of the blades, making the whole meadow glitter as if studded with glass beads. Egger marvelled at these tiny, trembling drops that clung so tenaciously to the blades of grass, only to fall at last and seep into the earth or dissolve to nothing in the air.”
“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is.”
“When someone opens their mouth they close their ears”