Author(s): Fleur Jaeggy , Translated by Gini Alhadeff
“It is not clear just when we stopped being ourselves and became something else.” These stories do not take long to read but the images in them will be embedded in your mind for a long time, so precisely sharp are Jaeggy’s tiny burrs of observed detail. The stories typically begin in the fantastic but resolve in what may be the actual, the actual as experienced on many levels at once, the small made large and the large made small, perhaps as Jaeggy experiences the actual. Perhaps these stories are not fiction but memoir, perhaps Jaeggy’s brother committed suicide, perhaps her family’s veins ran with schmertz, certainly she knew Joseph Brodsky, Ingeborg Bachmann, Italo Calvino, was married to Roberto Calasso, met Oliver Sacks (her account of this, after noting that Sacks needed a very cold room, resolves into the narrator’s affinity with a fish in the restaurant tank, Sacks forgotten), perhaps she realised only by looking at a photograph long after her mother’s death that her mother had been depressed (“Like a flash of lightning, there is an instant that descends, wounds, and it gone.”), but this is of no consequence to us to whom it makes no difference whose experience this is save that it is an experience seemingly shared by reader and author (and what is real about reality other than the experience of it?). Jaeggy’s characters are isolated in the extreme, hypochondriac, melancholy to the point of elegant insanity. They find company in objects rather than in persons. Often, objects take on motive force at the rate at which is is surrendered by these characters, relieving them of will, leaving the stories suspended at that moment of relinquishment that comes immediately before actual dissipation. The characters’ surrender to what thenceforth can be considered, for all practical purposes, to be fate opens their eyes to a grand equivalence of detail, to a topography of experience in which the resonance between things is more powerful, or at least memorable, than the things themselves, in which nuance overwhelms the facts. Memory conflates time, the past flows into, and is confused with, or dissolved into, the present. The intensity of experience, or of nuance, continues to increase until, at the moment of greatest intensity, the character’s fated self-destruction comes as an epiphany of detachment. Relief comes as the first reaction to disaster. All passion removes its bearer from the possible.
"This book is twisted and hypnotizing and downright lovely. Reading it is not unlike diving naked and headlong into a bramble of black rosebushes, so intrigued you are by their beauty: it's a swift, prckly undertaking and you emerge the other end bloodied all over." Daniel Johnson bramble-dives into Jaeggy's I Am the Brother of XX in The Paris Review.