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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

You Should Have Left

by
Daniel Kehlmann


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase You Should Have Left



Title: You Should Have Left
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 96 pages
Original in: German
Availability: You Should Have Left - US
You Should Have Left - UK
You Should Have Left - Canada
Du hättest gehen sollen - Deutschland
  • German title: Du hättest gehen sollen
  • Translated by Ross Benjamin

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Our Assessment:

B : effectively unsettling

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 21/10/2016 Rainer Moritz
Die Welt . 16/11/2016 Martin Ebel
Die Zeit . 20/10/2016 Ursula März


  From the Reviews:
  • "All diese Anspielungen mag man erkennen, doch sie täuschen nicht darüber hinweg, dass Kehlmann selbst wenig Geschick zeigt, ein unheimliches Szenario aufzubauen. Mit schnellen Handgriffen plündert er die Motivkiste der phantastischen Literatur (.....) Phantastisch und unheilvoll ist daran herzlich wenig." - Rainer Moritz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Daniel Kehlmann macht, dass unser eigener Kopf zum Spukhaus wird. Er bleibt der metafiktionale Spieler -- und dreht die Schauerliteratur eine ganze Umdrehung weiter." - Martin Ebel, Die Welt

  • "Man fragt sich, wie dieser Autor es wieder hinbekommen hat, die Realität so aus den Angeln zu heben, dass Zeit und Raum im Ferienhaus eine geradezu kubistische Dimension annehmen und der Drehbuchautor zu seinem eigenen Doppelgänger wird. Nur erschöpft sich Du hättest gehen sollen eben nicht im Handwerk der Verrätselung, kränkelt nicht im Geringsten an anämischer Abstraktheit. (...) Aber der verwegenen Fantastik steht nicht nur eine glasklare, wohltuend gelassene und nie raunende Sprache zur Seite, sondern eben auch enorme Menschen- und Sozialkenntnis." - Ursula März, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       You Should Have Left is a very short novel, narrated by a screenplay writer who has rented an isolated house in the mountains for a working vacation with his wife Susanna and four-year-old daughter Esther. He records the events of six early December days they spend there -- beginning hopefully:

It's fitting that I'm beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings, new ideas, a new beginning.
       But the beginnings aren't really that auspicious: he's still not getting along that well with his wife, and the pressure has been mounting for him to deliver the sequel to his break-through hit, Besties, and he just isn't making much headway. The locale where he hopes to get fresh wind and a fresh start is certainly isolated enough -- a half hour drive, of dangerous hairpin turns, from the nearest village in the valley; the basic setting and set-up is reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining -- and the new, modern house actually looks better than advertised, but unsurprisingly reality proves less idyllic than he had hoped for.
       He does imagine some scenes from the film -- working title: Marriage -- but neither it nor his real-life interaction with his wife are really coming together. The surroundings aren't helping, with both complaining of bad, feverish dreams. Much as he loves his wife, he constantly finds Susanna (and the pressure he feels to produce in front of her) irritating, torn by his feelings and worn down by their everyday life: "I love her, and I don't want any other life . Why do we fight all the time ?" Feelings of inadequacy -- his inability to churn out the screenplay; the fact that: "she has a university education and I don't" -- compound his annoyance, and eventually he has good reason to be even more concerned about the state of his marriage.
       Susanna and the issues he has with her are, at least, tangible; meanwhile, the house turns out to be one of insidious horror -- subtle but defying rationality (and, eventually, even geometry). He learns some of the background of the place -- it seems renters tend to vacate it before their intended stays are up ("That's why Steller always takes payment in advance", one of the locals tells him), and, ominously, that: "Once something happened". Early on he already gets the advice: "Get away quickly", but of course he doesn't heed it; soon enough -- it all happens in a matter of days, after all -- he:
sat down, breathed heavily, and thought with a clarity as if someone else were speaking to me: You should have left. Now it's too late.
       Indeed, things don't get better.
       Kehlmann unfolds his story in effectively creepy fashion, the narrator's world increasingly out of synch, the abyss so temptingly near. The screenplay writer finds -- a terrible realization for any writer -- that: "Words. They don't capture how it really is". Both the reality he is confronted with, especially regarding his wife (though his diminishing professional prospects don't help either), and the increasing unreality of the house make for a world in which he has lost his holds.
       Kehlmann effectively uses the young child as well -- one of the last things the narrator can hold onto, and a mind that still naturally mixes and confuses fantasy and reality -- and their final attempt at fleeing comes to an appropriate conclusion.
       All in all, it's decent and unsettling horror, in a tale that doesn't over-extend itself. A quick and nicely disturbing read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 March 2017

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Links:

You Should Have Left: Reviews: Daniel Kehlmann: Other books by Daniel Kehlmann under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975. He lives in Vienna, where he studied philosophy and literature. He has published several works of fiction.

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© 2017 the complete review

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