You Should Have Left: A Novel
“It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”
These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You Should Have Left
by author Daniel Kehlmann is imaginatively written in such a way that you’re reading a scriptwriter’s notes from his notebook, as he is writing them. The main character bares his soul about his life, his thoughts and dreams. Much of it is mundane everyday stuff, until you realise that what is being said actually has a very different meaning. Darker and more horrific than it at first may seem.
Writing his screenplay, and lying to his boss about his progress, the screenwriter takes his family, wife Susanna, and four-year old Esther to what he wants to be a writer’s retreat. Yeah, it does sound rather like The Shining. But even though there’s less of it, there’s even more to it… Stick with me. I’ll explain.
Things are not going as planned, for this unnamed writer. His marriage is on the rocks and his screenplay is failing. On top of that there are a lot of strange goings on he cannot explain. Odd things are happening in the house he’s renting via Airbnb. Maybe it’s haunted, or just tricks of light are playing with his mind giving him that illusion. Either way, it’s a slow descent into darkness that the author of the notebook does not seem to notice himself. Not straight away.
But as the reader I get to see that every now and then there’s things hidden in the text the writer seems not to be aware of. He’s spiralling downhill I’m wondering about his mental state, or if the house itself, or something in it — something supernatural — is playing with his mind.
How long can he hold it together? He’s got responsibilities to look after his kid, but he can hardly look after himself. He’s already forgetting which lies he’s told and mixing his dreams (and nightmares) with reality. Even he doesn’t know how it will end, and starts to think about leaving his notebook behind in order for it to be found… and it has been, I’m reading it now…
Several of the notes in his book get to the end of the page and are never finished, which to my mind, is in keeping with the distracted, confused voice of this note taker and adds to the setting’s dark, oppressive atmosphere.
Clever, surreal, with a kind of rhythmic writing, akin to memories of sitting in the back of the car and being rocked to sleep. The only difference would be the rude awakening. The slamming of the brakes. When the harshness of reality jolts you awake.
Yep, this unsettling, nightmarish journey, had me glued to the pages, even though at first I was not entirely sure I understood what I’d read… It’s a short novella sized book, and I must admit I had to read it again to fully appreciate this awesome piece of writing. It’s not your average horror, I can tell you! Nope, there’s nothing average about this at all. Incidentally, it’s translated from German and that fact may be why I thought it worked even better. No words are wasted. There’s a certain style to this book that makes me feel like he’s got something bigger, and maybe even better to come. I can see, however, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I personally wish I’d got to this one sooner.
Stark, sparse, and totally different to anything I’ve read in a long time. I loved it. An alternative read without a doubt. A very short read, in fact. What’s more, this review took longer to write about it, than it did to read. Twice.
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