was born in Munich in 1975 and lives in Vienna and Berlin. His works have won the Candide Prize, the Literature Prize of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Doderer Prize, the Kleist Prize, the WELT Literature Prize and the Thomas Mann Prize. His previous novel Measuring the World was translated in more than 40 foreign languages and is one of the biggest successes in post-war German literature.
YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT
A young married couple with a 4-year-old daughter has rented an isolated holiday cottage in the mountains in the last few weeks before Christmas. The husband is a script writer whose deadline to submit a new comedy is nearing fast. He forces himself to work using his notepad, and he knows the more furiously he scribbles in it the less he has to look after his daughter.
Instead of working, he starts jotting down what he and his wife argue about, describes the strained atmosphere, writes about walking in the hills and records strange things. He sees the interior where he’s sitting mirrored in a window but he is not in the mirror image. The tap in the bath draws back from his hand when he reaches for it. If he draws a line through the middle of a right angle, the two halves add up to less or more than 90 degrees. Too late, he notices that his notebook contains sentences he didn’t write. Sentences that tell him to leave. The man reacts with nightmares and fear. He wants to leave, but then things take an unexpected turn: his wife’s affair is revealed and she drives off in the car, leaving her husband and daughter alone. Although the man wants to flee with his daughter, the house won’t let him go. The way the daughter’s behaviour is recounted is highly suggestive, including her unsettledness, her incisive questions. Then there’s the man’s self-sacrifice. The mother and daughter leave together and he is left in the house on his own. At the end, compassion outweighs fear.
Daniel Kehlmann’s story is not only nightmarish and haunting, it also refuses to loosen its grip on us for a long time after we’ve finished reading. Its depiction of a spiral down into the abyss, into the abysmal, develops an extraordinary pull on our imagination. But most impressive is that, along with the horror is emotional depth: the tensions in this family.
A spooky story by bestselling author Daniel Kehlmann