Unformed Landscape

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, ...
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Unformed Landscape

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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.
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Editorial Reviews

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

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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512265
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 4/11/2006
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.02 (w) x 7.51 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stamm

Peter Stamm was born in 1963, in Weinfelden, Switzerland. He is the author of the novel, Agnes (1998), and numerous short stories and radio plays. He lives outside of Zurich.

Michael Hofmann

Michael Hofmann has translated Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Roth, Patrick S, Herta Mueller, and Franz Kafka. He won the Translators' Association's Schlegel-Tieck Prize twice in 1988 for his adaptation of The Double Bass by Patrick S (1987), and in 1993 for his rendering of Wolfgang Koeppen's Death in Rome (1992). In 1999 he won the PEN/Book of the Month Club Translation Prize for The String of Pearls. His translation of his father's novel The Film Explainer, by Gert Hofmann, won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1995. He has written and translated more than 35 books, winning eight awards for his translations and his poetry.

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Foreword

1. Katherine already has one failed marriage behind her when she accepts Thomas’ marriage proposal, despite the fact that she does not love him. Why does she agree to marry him? Why does Katherine seem to fall into marriage without giving it much thought?

2. What role does the setting of isolated, coastal Finnmark play in Katherine’s identity and heritage?

3. Stamm introduces a motif of technology, such as the internet homepage that Christian shows Katherine and Katherine’s incessant email checks. Can technology fill a void of isolation or does it just widen the gap between two people?

4. Compare and contrast Helge, Thomas, Christian and Morten. What attracts Katherine to each of them?

5. Katherine’s second husband Thomas lives in a fictive world where he fabricates stories of grand achievement. When Katherine finds him sitting alone in his family’s hut after claiming he was on his nightly jog, she wishes he had been cheating on her instead. What do you think of her reaction? Why do you think Thomas is unable to communicate with his wife?

6. Why does Katherine force a physical relationship with Christian? Does she seek comfort out of necessity or true affection? Did you expect such careless treatment from him?

7. Maternal love does not come naturally to Katherine. What was your reaction to Katherine’s revelation that she views Randy in the irredeemable image of his incapable father Helge? What accounts for Katherine’s shift in her view of Randy upon her return from the Norwegian ski trip?

8. Examine Katherine’s ski trip to Norway with her new friends. Why do you think Linn takes an interest inKatherine? What does Stamm show the reader about the nature of female friendship?

9. What does the title Unformed Landscape refer to? What would you re-name the second chapter of Katherine’s life after reading the ending?

10. Social clashing exists with the juxtaposition of Katherine’s family and Thomas’s family. Discuss the scenes in which the two families collide, culminating with Randy’s birthday party.

11. In what ways does the sea becomes a character of its own, providing both sorrow and connection in Katherine’s life?

12. Stamm style is a fluid, sparse progressions of words. For instance, the narrator states, "Katherine had married Helge, she had had a child, she had divorced Helge." What effect does this diction have on the overall story? What does the language reflect?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Katherine already has one failed marriage behind her when she accepts Thomas’ marriage proposal, despite the fact that she does not love him. Why does she agree to marry him? Why does Katherine seem to fall into marriage without giving it much thought?

2. What role does the setting of isolated, coastal Finnmark play in Katherine’s identity and heritage?

3. Stamm introduces a motif of technology, such as the internet homepage that Christian shows Katherine and Katherine’s incessant email checks. Can technology fill a void of isolation or does it just widen the gap between two people?

4. Compare and contrast Helge, Thomas, Christian and Morten. What attracts Katherine to each of them?

5. Katherine’s second husband Thomas lives in a fictive world where he fabricates stories of grand achievement. When Katherine finds him sitting alone in his family’s hut after claiming he was on his nightly jog, she wishes he had been cheating on her instead. What do you think of her reaction? Why do you think Thomas is unable to communicate with his wife?

6. Why does Katherine force a physical relationship with Christian? Does she seek comfort out of necessity or true affection? Did you expect such careless treatment from him?

7. Maternal love does not come naturally to Katherine. What was your reaction to Katherine’s revelation that she views Randy in the irredeemable image of his incapable father Helge? What accounts for Katherine’s shift in her view of Randy upon her return from the Norwegian ski trip?

8. Examine Katherine’s ski trip to Norway with her new friends. Why do you think Linn takes an interest in Katherine? What does Stamm show the reader about the nature of female friendship?

9. What does the title Unformed Landscape refer to? What would you re-name the second chapter of Katherine’s life after reading the ending?

10. Social clashing exists with the juxtaposition of Katherine’s family and Thomas’s family. Discuss the scenes in which the two families collide, culminating with Randy’s birthday party.

11. In what ways does the sea becomes a character of its own, providing both sorrow and connection in Katherine’s life?

12. Stamm style is a fluid, sparse progressions of words. For instance, the narrator states, "Katherine had married Helge, she had had a child, she had divorced Helge." What effect does this diction have on the overall story? What does the language reflect?

Read More Show Less

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