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Bernhard Strobel: Ein dünner Faden (A Thin Thread)

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Short stories.
Graz: Literaturverlag Droschl, 2015.

152 pages; hardcover; Euro 19,-.
ISBN: 9783854209607.

Bernhard Strobel


With the aid of a magnifying glass and his own linguistic precision, Bernhard Strobel dissects human relationships.
"My mind forced me to see all things (…) at a sinister proximity: just as once I had seen, under a magnifying glass, a piece of skin on my little finger, and the way it resembled open country, with its furrows and caves, was how I saw people and their actions." (Hugo von Hofmannsthal: from Selected Works in Two Volumes, S.Fischer, vol. 2, p. 342)
It is with this image that Lord Chandos seeks to make sense of the crisis that he is going through; one might say that, almost 115 years later, Bernhard Strobel has based his book of short stories
Ein dünner Faden (‘A Thin Thread’) on this sentence by Hofmannsthal. The scene which he dissects, as if examining it through a magnifying glass, at it first seems to be idyllic, presenting a life of luxury, a house and garden – pre-requisites for what should be a life of happiness, yet there is "a dirty cut running through the unblemished picture" (p. 28): surveillance, eavesdropping, game-playing, tactical manoeuvering and lying are the order of the day; there is talk is of "mistrust", of "weapons", and of "redressing wrongs" when someone else has their back to the wall.
"The sky was cloudless, there was no wind, and the silence was absolute." (p. 23) – Bernhard Strobel likes to place his characters, who "do not know what to do with themselves" (p. 22), in a highly charged atmosphere such as this, in order to then observe how they come to terms with the tensions to which they are exposed, and how shallow und fragile their relationships are.
The motifs in Strobel’s prose are artfully interwoven: time and again, the scenario of the garden, for instance, is used to convincingly evoke biblical associations. In the process, many things remain in a state of suspension, since the author relies on the fact that his sober observations can indicate everything that there is to show.
In the ninth and last text, Lord Chandos’ magnifying glass finally makes its appearance: it is used by a man as a telescope in order to
"glance out into the world" from the fifth storey of a hospital (p. 103). W., who is confined to a wheelchair, writes a series of seven letters to his friend K., in which he delights in giving him a cynical résumé of his life. The state of suspension is also consistently maintained in this scurrilous, literary puzzle picture, which brings things round full circle to Hofmannsthal’s ‘letter’ :
"Language. It is an unsatisfactory aid, and yet it is our one and only aid. A beautiful dilemma." (p.131)
Bernhard Strobel more than lives up to the challenge of confronting this dilemma. His language fulfils one of the demands of all good literature: to be able achieve more clarity about oneself and the world by asking oneself questions that are sometimes unsettling.

Abridged version of the review by Herbert Först, 25. 02. 2015.
English translation by Peter Waugh.
Full German text:

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