Books in Translation

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

The Mussel Feast Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

Five words from the blurb: German, family, issues, revolutions, understand

Beside the Sea is one of my favourite books, but I’ve had less success with other Peirene releases. A few weeks ago Meike, the founder of Peirene Press, assured me that The Mussel Feast would be to my taste, so I decided to accept a review copy. She was right – this is a fantastic book and the ending is particularly good.

The Mussel Feast is a 112 page monologue narrated by a daughter as she waits for her father to return home for dinner. The father is expected to receive a promotion so the family cooks a large pot of mussels to celebrate.  A wonderful sense of foreboding mounts as the father is increasingly late; mirroring Beside the Sea in the way an ordinary situation slowly becomes unbearably tense.

She opened the wine and we felt terribly insubordinate. We sat around the dead mussels as if part of some conspiracy and drank father’s second best wine without him, gradually realizing that the mood had been spoiled for all of us.

The book is set in Germany and was written shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The repressed state that they live in is revealed over the course of the book, perfectly capturing what life is like for a family living under the power of a tyrannical father.

The writing was gripping, despite the meandering narrative, and the lack of chapter/page breaks encourages the reader to complete the book in a single sitting, giving the book maximum impact. 

This is a wonderful little book and I’m sure that a second reading would reveal even more depth. Recommended to anyone interested in thought-provoking international literature. 


The thoughts of other bloggers:

For a book so troubled in tone, I found it to be funny and inventive, and with surprising flashes of relatability to familiar aspects of family life… Tolstoy is My Cat

The style is curiously hypnotic… Book Word

…a work which is surprisingly powerful and layered for its size. Tony’s Reading List

16 replies on “The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke”

I have been eagerly awaiting your review on this one with crossed fingers. A must read for me!! I just LOVED “Beside the Sea” and it’s become my benchmark! . I foolishly now expect all Peirene books to live up to it. 4 stars is good. Another for my list.

Ifi, I suffer from the same problem. I’m not sure any book will ever top Beside the Sea and it feels wrong to criticise a publisher for failing to find another book as amazing as that one, but this one is very good in its own (very different) way. I hope you enjoy it.

I’m looking forward to picking this one up, I read Roads to Berlin last year which focused on the fall of the Berlin Wall and German history so I’m thinking this will be a nice contrast to the non-fiction background.

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