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Dustin Illingworth on Ingeborg Bachmann

Writing for The Nation, Dustin Illingworth celebrates Malina, by the Austrian experimental novelist Ingeborg Bachmann, recently translated into English by Philip Boehm:

Published in 1971, two years before the apartment fire that would end Bachmann’s life at the age of 47, Malina was the first of a planned trilogy of works called Todesarten, or “Ways of Dying.” Her oeuvre — she also wrote short stories and was a celebrated poet and essayist — inhabits what Bachmann called a “utopia of indeterminateness,” the darkly satiric, semi-mystical, elegantly ironic territory of Austrian modernist progenitors like Robert Musil, Joseph Roth, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Yet, despite obvious affinities, she remained something of an unwilling heir. Although Bachmann imbibed the despondent charm of her forebears, her only finished novel reaches the contemporary reader as something strange and sui generis: an existential portrait, a work of desperate obsession, a proto-feminist classic, and one of the most jagged renderings of female consciousness European literature has produced. In its torrent of language, paralyzing lassitude, and relentless constriction of expectation and escape, Malina condenses — and then detonates — the neurasthenic legacy of the interwar Austrian novel.