Five words from the blurb: Rome, German, woman, war, daydream
Beside the Sea was one of my favourite reads last year and so I am always keen to try books from Peirene, a wonderful new publisher.
Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is set in Rome and follows a young, pregnant German woman as she walks through the city. It is 1943, but the war seems a long way away. She feels safe as she daydreams about her baby, but she slowly realises that her husband isn’t in the same environment. He is in Northern Africa and there is a good possibility that he will not return to see his child.
The book is very unusual in that it is written as a single 125 page sentence. Unfortunately I failed to warm to the writing style and it irritated me throughout the book. I longed for a full stop and thoughts about how nice a chapter break would be began to occupy my mind. The endless sentence gave the book a rambling feel which stretched my tolerance to breaking point. The addition of a few full stops would have done a lot to improve an otherwise beautifully written book.
With words these profound I think it is important to take the time to pause and reflect, but this was impossible given the structure of the book. My problem with the writing style was quite sad, because some wonderful ideas were buried under the gimmick.
Another problem I had is that nothing actually happens. The entire book consists of one scene in which a woman walks across the city, reflecting on her life. I’m afraid I like my books to have a plot and so books that give an isolated insight into a woman’s mind do little for me.
I know a lot of people love this book, but it was too experimental for me.
I seem to be the only one who doesn’t love it:
….my favourite of Peirene’s titles so far, and possibly the most convincing narrative voice I have read for a very long time. Stuck in a Book
What the author does quite cleverly is to create a mood where time feels suspended. Novel Insights
….a mesmerizing work. Caribousmom
….a meaningful and original glimpse of the mind of one women during the Second World War. Iris on Books