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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Isle of the Dead

Gerhard Meier

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To purchase Isle of the Dead

Title: Isle of the Dead
Author: Gerhard Meier
Genre: Novel
Written: 1979 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 104 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Isle of the Dead - US
Isle of the Dead - UK
Isle of the Dead - Canada
Isle of the Dead - India
L'île des morts - France
Toteninsel - Deutschland
  • German title: Toteninsel
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Burton Pike

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Our Assessment:

B : agreeable meandering

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Isle of the Dead is the first volume in Gerhard Meier's 'Amrainer tetralogy', Baur and Bindschädler. It features two old men, Baur and Bindschädler, out for a walk in the Swiss town of Amrain (a stand-in for Niederbipp, Meier's hometown) on St.Martin's Day -- 11 November -- in 1977. It is Bindschädler that records and reflects on their outing, while Baur does most of the talking -- Bindschädler quoting him directly at length, while only very occasionally and indirectly ("I said to Baur" ...) mentioning his own contributions to any sort of dialogue.
       This is typical meandering fiction -- best summed up by Baur when he notes:

     "I've strayed from the subject, Bindschädler. But our life, our thinking, is probably a constant deviation, although one doesn't really know what one is deviating from , in order finally to deviate to where there are no shadows, no winter.
       Bindschädler describes their route and turns, and the various subjects that come up, his mind occasionally drifting off a bit, while Baur continues, almost without pause, to tell his stories and make his observations.
       As Baur notes:
     Why, Bindschädler, when one is old, does one have this crazy need -- to look backward or to live with our yesterdays, or to grasp again and again the threads that bind one with what has passed away, vanished, is irretrievable, that must somewhere have dissolved and yet is present, not to be got rid of ?
       Taking its title from the paintings by Arnold Böcklin -- as Baur notes, there are five versions of the 'Toteninsel' [see, for example, the Wikipedia page] -- Isle of the Dead similarly avoids a definitive form (and, as noted, is only the first of four volumes of variations on all these themes). It meanders along with its protagonists, delving into both the past as well as incidental minutiae -- from a blowfly captured by a spider to thoughts about the: "two omega cells that steer the sounds crickets receive like a sound compass".
       It's an agreeable little ramble, in a quiet Swiss town, two old men at some -- but not a complete -- remove from life and history at its fullest. It's reflective fiction, with two protagonists the reader only slowly gets to know -- Meier allows things to unfold slowly and gently -- and it's a shame only the first installment of the tetralogy is available in English so far. But it's a pleasant, engaging short trip.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 February 2012

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Isle of the Dead: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Gerhard Meier lived 1917 to 2008.

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