Unformed Landscape

Unformed Landscape

by Peter Stamm
     
 

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Unformed Landscape begins in a small village on a fjord in the Finnmark, on the northeastern coast of Norway, where the borders between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia lie covered in snow and darkness, where the real borders are between day and night, summer and winter, and between people. Here, a sensitive young woman like Kathrine finds few outlets for

Overview

Unformed Landscape begins in a small village on a fjord in the Finnmark, on the northeastern coast of Norway, where the borders between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia lie covered in snow and darkness, where the real borders are between day and night, summer and winter, and between people. Here, a sensitive young woman like Kathrine finds few outlets for her desires. Half Norwegian, half Sami (an indigenous people), Kathrine works for the customs office inspecting the fishing boats arriving regularly in the harbor. She is in her late 20s, has a son from an early marriage, and has drifted into a second loveless marriage to a man whose cold and dominating conventionality forms a bold stroke through the unformed landscape of her life. After she makes a discovery about her husband that deeply wounds her, Kathrine cuts loose from her moorings and her confusion and sets off in search of herself.

Her journey begins aboard a ship headed south, taking her below the Arctic Circle for the first time in her life. Kathrine makes her way to France and has the bittersweet experience of a love affair that flares and dies quickly, her starved senses rewarded by the shimmering beauty of Paris. Through a series of poignant encounters, Kathrine is led to the richer life she was meant to have and is brave enough to claim.

Using simple words strung together in a melodic alphabet, Peter Stamm introduces us, through a series of intimate sketches, to the heart of an unforgettable woman. Her story speaks eloquently about solitude, the fragility of love, lost illusions, and self-discovery.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An oddly vacant, cold-blooded tale of a wayward young wife in isolated coastal Norway. The clue to this chilling tale is not what fails to happen to the stiff protagonist-anything of importance-but what Swiss-German novelist Stamm (Agnes, 2000) chooses to tell about her life. Kathrine lives in a land swathed for most of the year in frigid near-darkness. The next village is 40 kilometers away, and when it snows, "when it did nothing but snow," the town shuts down. At 25, she's already been married and divorced; she supports her child with a job as a ship customs' officer and the help of her mother, a widow who, like all the old people in the town, "sat silently at home, watched television, and waited." After a quick courtship, Kathrine remarries. Upstanding, wealthy Thomas seems to love her and like her son, but he exhibits some troubling symptoms of a controlling personality. He gradually removes from her apartment anything she owns and essentially takes over the management of her life. Kathrine begins to question the fabulous facts about his life that Thomas and his family have led her to believe. Summoning her will, she follows him one night, then confronts him with his lies. She boards a trawler headed south, admitting to her friend Harald (the captain) that she has never crossed the Arctic Circle. "Welcome to the world," he replies, and thus Kathrine is on her way, hopping trains through Europe, passing through Paris and Boulogne, in search of a Danish acquaintance who shows her around but doesn't want much to do with her. While Kathrine hates darkness and doesn't particularly miss her son, she eventually returns, even though she doesn't want to, because there seems no other place forher. She is the eponymous "unformed landscape," but the author stubbornly refuses to disclose enough about her essence to deeply engage our sympathies. Stylistically two-dimensional, with frozen surfaces that resist the reader.
From the Publisher
The New Republic Online
Chloë Schama
As the title of his novel Unformed Landscape (Other Press, 2005) and his collection of short stories Strange Gardens and Other Stories (Other Press, 2006) imply, Swiss author Peter Stamm's characters are deeply affected by their surroundings. The Norwegian fishing village where Katharine, the central character in Unformed Landscapes, resides is a gray place, enlivened only by her increasingly complicated affairs and fantasies of life elsewhere. Like the landscapes of his novels, Stamm's prose is spare and graceful.

"Unformed Landscape is a masterpiece of minimalism but with deep undercurrents..."—Boston Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590511404
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
04/18/2005
Pages:
168
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.75(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stamm is the author of the novels Seven YearsOn a Day Like This, and Unformed Landscape, and the short-story collections We’re Flying and In Strange Gardens and Other Stories. His prize-winning books have been translated into more than thirty languages. For his entire body of work and his accomplishments in fiction, he was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize in 2013, and in 2014 he won the prestigious Friedrich Hölderlin Prize. He lives in Switzerland.
 
Michael Hofmann has translated the work of Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Peter Stephan Jungk, and many others. He is the author of several books of poems and a book of essays, Behind the Lines, and is the editor of the anthology Twentieth-Century German Poetry. In 2012 he was awarded the Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Florida and London.

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