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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Other Side

Alfred Kubin

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To purchase The Other Side

Title: The Other Side
Author: Alfred Kubin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1909 (Eng. 1967)
Length: 309 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Other Side - US
The Other Side - UK
The Other Side - Canada
The Other Side - India
L'autre côté - France
Die andere Seite - Deutschland
L'altra parte - Italia
La otra parte - España
  • German title: Die andere Seite
  • With illustrations by the author
  • Translated by Denver Lindley (1967) and Mike Mitchell (2000)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : vivid gloom and horror

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 20/8/2009 Anja Hirsch
The Spectator . 27/9/1969 Stuart Hood
Sunday Telegraph . 24/8/1969 Francis King

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das eigentlich Phantastische an diesem bildgewaltigen hundertjährigen Klassiker phantastischer Literatur ist seine unendliche Biegbarkeit: Man kann diesen Roman lesen als subjektive Grenzerfahrung, als brachiale, traumwandlerische Triebentleerung, als Studie über Depression. Man kann ihn freilich lesen als Text seiner Zeit" - Anja Hirsch, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It would be easy to dismiss The Other Side as a period piece, an example of fin de siècle macabre, to feel that -- like much of Kubin's art -- it is somehow peripheral to the mainstream of European culture, the product of that decay which some of his contemporaries felt to be spreading through the Austro-Hungarian empire. If it is not possible to do so, their reason is to be sought in what Kubin has to say about dreams. (...) It is, I believe, because of the precise use of dream symbols and dream situations that Kubin can still excite, move and frighten us." - Stuart Hood, The Spectator

  • "An interesting literary curiosity rather than the seminal work some have thought it to be." - Francis King, Sunday Telegraph

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:

[Note: this review is based on the German original.
All translations are my own.]

       The Other Side begins with the narrator recollecting the return of Claus Patera into his life: now well into his sixties (and, as it turns out, institutionalized) the narrator and Patera had briefly been classmates at school before losing touch. Having established himself, more or less, as an illustrator, the narrator is again drawn into Patera's orbit some two decades later, when a mysterious stranger visits him in Munich, with a wild proposition. Patera has made good -- accumulating what is perhaps the world's greatest fortune -- and has founded a 'dream-realm', purchasing some three-thousand square kilometers in deepest Asia, walling it off from the rest of the world, leaving only a single entranceway (and exit), and establishing his own ... well, a utopia of sorts, though 'other-world' is indeed a better description. Dangling some cash, and the offer of a new adventure, the stranger convinces the narrator to uproot his life and follow Patera's invitation, to move to the dream-realm.
       The narrator and his wife take the long journey, and soon find themselves in Pearl, the main city in the dream-realm. Patera does have a few idiosyncrasies, which are reflected in the look of the place, and what can be brought to it. For one, Patera is militantly anti-modern: nothing new is permitted, and even the clothes newcomers are allowed to bring in mustn't be of the newest style or fashion. The city is also largely built up of structures that have been moved, in their entirety, from other locales -- giving the place a back-home feel, since that's where many of the houses are actually from. But they're not structures of great beauty or even otherwise remarkable -- one of the many odd things about this odd place. (As it turns out, the structures share other qualities that are not immediately obvious; the reveal of these is one of the book's most effectively disturbing ones -- in a book that is through-and-through disturbing.)
       Pearl, and the dream-realm, amy be an odd place, but everyone quickly grows accustomed to its oddity, the narrator noting how one quickly came to take for granted the unusual. So too:

Hier waren Einbildungen einfach Realitäten. Das Wunderbare dabei war nur, wie solche Vorstellungen in mehreren Köpfen zugleich auftraten. Die Leute redeten sich in ihre Suggestionen gewaltsam ein.

[Here delusions were simply real. And the wonderful thing about it was how these illusions appeared simultaneously in various minds. People forcibly talked themselves into their suggestive visions.]
       Not surprising that such shared delusion(s) can become problematic -- or, indeed, that the dream-realm proves nightmarish.
       This isolated domain Patera has created is never a Shangri-La -- but it also never seems to have been intended at such. It functions, as a semi-nation with several tens of thousands of inhabitants, but it's as if certain laws -- of nature, and of man -- don't apply -- even as it's unclear which do and which don't. There are fantastical happenings and visions, but they are taken almost for granted. As someone tells the narrator: "Wir stehen hier all unter dem Bann" ('Here we are all under the spell') -- but what exactly that spell is is hard to pin down.
       The narrator tries to seek out Patera for some answers, but Patera remains elusive -- both omnipresent, it seems, and yet hard to reach. And even when the narrator thinks he has made contact, he isn't really much the wiser.
       Things do not go particularly well for the narrator -- and worse for his wife. They lose their fortune, and while the narrator gets a good job as an illustrator for one of the local papers, their situation is not a particularly happy one.
       This world with its grim, nightmarish side takes a surreal turn when Patera is threatened in his own realm by a wealthy American newcomer, Herkules Bell, who spent years seeking it out. Their escalating conflict sees the dream-realm collapse -- the houses literally falling apart, everything is overrun -- really overrun -- by all sorts of wildlife. If the dream-realm was never a paradise, it practically dissolves into the primal and decadent, with few holds left, physical or mental. No wonder the narrator winds up institutionalized.
       "(E)s war wie im Traum !" ('It was as in a dream !") the narrator tries to explain, as everything goes south. That sums up much of the book, too. Kubin doesn't gradually lead from reality to dream-world; rather, he teeters artfully between the two for most of the novel, and this is part of makes The Other Side effective. If a nightmarish -- even sometimes absurd -- vision, so too there's enough plausible and real to the narrator's experiences that the horror is all the more powerful.
       Vividly imagined, with Kubin's fairly simple black snap-shot illustrations punctuating and amplifying the text, The Other Side is a novel of its times that, while utilizing elements, nevertheless doesn't neatly slot into the other literary trends of the day: decadent, gothic, expressionist, psychological. It's a wild trip, but for the most part well-handled, with truly memorable scenes and visions; it's nicely different, nicely weird.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 July 2016

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The Other Side: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) is best-known as an illustrator.

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