Thursday 18 June 2020

Book Review: You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann trans by Ross Benjamin

You Should Have Left You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to this book upon finding Daniel Kehlmann' s book Tyll Shortlisted in the International Booker Prize 2020. I read a bit of background on the author, whom I had not come across before, noted that his first translator of all but on eof his previous book had died, and this was his second book translated by his new translator Ross Benjamin|. To me it is always a good sign when an author and translator build up a report and are a constant pairing.  Tyll was till very expensive to buy and libraries are still closed due to the COVID crisis, so I took a look at their other collaboration and noted that it is due out as a movie for streaming release on 19th June ( as I write this that is tomorrow) starring Kevin Bacon and was available at a reduced price as ebook and via Audible. So I picked that up as a starter.

It is a really short book only 128 pages, 2hrs of listening.  The story is set in an Apline AirBnB being rented by a writer, his wife and 4 yr old child, while he is trying to write the sequel for his screenplay. The book is set over the days 2-7 December. He starts to expereince issues with the house which at first amount to getting lost within it which he puts down to it being unfaniliar and to his focus on his work. The work is not going well. He has no sense of where his characters are going and his producer is threatening to replace him as writer if he doesn't deliver on time. As readers we begin to realise there is stress within the family unit, although the writer is our narrator so in that sense we have only one side, therefore unreliable, but engaging and in my opinion well written. It is as if we are inside his head. His thoughts are jumbled moving from the reality of the family situation to his organically growing possible dialogs for the screenplay. Once you get used to these fleeting back and forth, I quickly found it very readable.  This really helps as the novel develops in  many ways like a classic haunted house story. We get the red flag warnings and with the narrator we experience the phenomena he experiences, first as bad dreams, again very plausible with a stressed out imagination at work and finding it hard to rest. There is most definite sense of creeping horror. There is a real sense of disorientation and doom which is lightened only by his relationship with his daughter which is beuatifully written, with some very real touches of an adults perspective on constantly praising a child and reading inane children's stories again and again.  This relationship is key part of the book.

I'm impressed by this small book, can't wait for the movie to see how the director handles this, and oh yes I can see Kevin Bacon playing this role. Mr B aced another role choice.  Not only does Kehlman blur the lines between reality and  imagination, SPOILER ALERT he blurs dimensionalites in lines between ghost story and space/time. He curves space and time within and around the house  in a way that adds to the panic the narrator and we readers feel. I loved the device he chose for this, a simple plastic triangular set square we will all remember using in geometry class at school.

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