Reviewed by Anne Posten
Apparently, if we are to believe the venerable Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Robert Seethaler’s slim latest work, A Whole Life, is “a novel for sadists.” Such a proclamation seems an extreme one for a book whose diminutive size and unpretentious premise fairly trumpet harmlessness. Nor does the title belie the content. A Whole Life is in fact just that: a compressed chronicle of one man’s entire life, from birth (nearly) to death. The facts that the man in question is a resident of a tiny Austrian alpine town, and that his life spans the first three tumultuous quarters of the twentieth century do not at first glance contradict the assumption that the reader will find little fodder here for her darker impulses. Or perhaps they do. What is it, really, that a reader looks for from an encounter with a foreign life, whether fictional or real? What impulses, dark or ennobling, attract us to a work of literature in the first place?