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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Mörikes Schlüsselbein

Olga Martynova

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To purchase Mörikes Schlüsselbein

Title: Mörikes Schlüsselbein
Author: Olga Martynova
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013
Length: 319 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Mörikes Schlüsselbein - Deutschland
  • Mörikes Schlüsselbein has not been translated into English
  • Ingeborg Bachmann-Preis, 2012 (excerpt)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : lovely composition

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 17/5/2013 Jan Wiele
NZZ . 10/7/2013 Angelika Overath

  From the Reviews:
  • "Sie präsentiert einen literarischen Text, der seine Bedeutung nicht sofort offenbart. Sie erobert der deutschsprachigen Erzählprosa eine Rätselhaftigkeit zurück, wie es sie bei Alfred Döblin und Arno Schmidt einmal gab und die heute allenfalls noch bei einigen sich treu gebliebenen Formjongleuren wie Friederike Mayröcker zu finden ist: Rätselhaftigkeit also von der Makroebene des Romans bis zur Mikroebene des einzelnen Satzes und bis in die Kapitelüberschriften" - Jan Wiele, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "So romantisch der dichtungstheoretische Ansatz klingen mag, so atmosphärisch alltagssicher ist das Buch (.....) Sie fotografiert nicht, sie arbeitet mit Fundstücken der Phantasie (und was wäre phantastischer als die Realität, wenn man das Schiff auf dem Kopf ernst nimmt?) und legt aus den intensiven Splittern ihre Mosaike einer die Konventionen entwaffnenden Welt." - Angelika Overath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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:

       Mörikes Schlüsselbein is a slippery novel, shifting between individuals and groups of characters, with tangential stories and fictions interspersed throughout. The novel begins with Professor Andreas Bach, in hospital, waiting for a visit from his wife, Marina; they can be considered the central characters. Andreas is writing a book on a famous Russian poet, Fjodor Stein, and the stories of Fjodor, and his wife Natascha, also figure prominently. (Marina also has a book in the works -- on Daniil Kharms -- though that's more of an aside here.) Andreas was previously married, to Sabine, and had two now near-grown children with her, Moritz and Franziska, who are beginning to go their own ways.
       Early on, Andreas, Marina, and his two children go on a weekend outing to Tübingen -- and see exhibited there something labeled the clavicula moericensis poetae of the title, German poet and author (Mozart's Journey to Prague, etc.) Eduard Mörike's collarbone (billed as being on loan from the Stuttgart cemetery where he is interred). The odd relic and its (back)story -- including the question of its authenticity -- is one of the threads running through the novel, returned to repeatedly (and resolved at the end).
       The novel shifts between various stories, lingering here and there, unfolding personal stories -- some longer and covering much ground, as in Natascha's evolution, others smaller, if often significant, episodes, such as Franziska abandoning a class trip to seek out the Wittgenstein house in Vienna by herself. The novel is suffused with the Russian experience; most of it takes place outside of Russia, with exiles and wanderers drifting through the stories, but it also returns to Petersburg, and Marina's old home. Moving from Germany to United States to Russia proper, then and now, specific locales matter less then the common cultural traditions carried over. The poetic dominates, but there are prosaic stories too (including prosaic scenes from the lives of poets) -- as well as a shamanic one.
       Memory is explored -- including prospectively, especially in the case of Moritz, whose future still lies mostly ahead of him. So, for example, the possibility of his eventually writing a book about his father is considered -- concluding: "Moritz wird seufzen und sich fragen, ob er das Buch über den Vater doch lieber sein lassen sollte" ('Moritz will sigh, and ask himself whether he shouldn't rather just leave the book about his father be'). Or there's the encounter with a girl selling ice-cream, and how it, and the girl -- at that moment, not later -- will remain a timeless constant he carries along with him all his life. Even a taxi driver echoes this central theme of the novel: "Na ja, wir alle werden irgendwann vergangen sein" ('Ah, well, we'll all eventually be past').
       Fjodor is a larger-than-life presence, and then absence; central to the novel, his death is a turning point -- not an about-face, but just the axis around which much of the action, at least in part, revolves. He connects various characters, from early on, when he is to give a reading at an American literary conference, to the get-together a year after his death in Petersburg; typically, too, he avoids being truly front and center, whether delayed in reaching the conference, or with his name still only showing in rough, placeholder form on his grave, not yet properly inscribed.
       Martynova tells her stories well, adapting her styles to the different ones, from an assured, straightforward realism to much more playful-experimental (but not off-puttingly so) forms. There's some Russian melancholy to the novel, but it's a genial one too, with some sharp humor blended seamlessly in. It resists easy -- or meaningful -- summary, yet ultimately feels coherent and whole -- the pieces never straying too far, falling into place, down to widowed Natascha's plans to marry again. The story returns, too, to Mörike's collarbone, the mystery behind the object finally figured out, a fitting one for a tale that doesn't aim for epic sweep and yet manages ultimately to feel grander and weightier than its light pieces may make it at first seem.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 December 2017

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Mörikes Schlüsselbein: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Olga Martynova (Ольга Мартынова) was born in Russia in 1962, and has lived in Germany since 1991. She writes in both German (fiction) and Russian (poetry).

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