From the internationally best-selling author of Measuring the World and F, an eerie and supernatural tale of a writer's emotional collapse
A screenwriter, his wife, and their four-year old daughter rent a house in the mountains of Germany, but something isn’t right. As he toils on a sequel to his most successful movie, the screenwriter notices that rooms aren’t where he remembers them—and finds in his notebook words that are not his own.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I don’t understand why I had a dream like that after such a blissful evening.
An empty room. A naked lightbulb on the ceiling, in the corner a chair with only three legs, one of them broken off. The door was locked; what was I afraid of?
The woman. Her narrow eyes were very close together, on either side of the root of her nose, which had a deep wrinkle down the middle. Her forehead too was wrinkled, and her lips were slightly open, so that I could see her teeth, yellowish like those of heavy smokers. But it was her eyes that were awful.
She stood there while my fear grew unbearable. I was trembling, I had difficulty breathing, my eyes were watering, my legs went weak—this didn’t actually happen to my real body, of course, so is it possible that I wasn’t afraid at all, that it was only my dream self, just as only my dream hands were trembling? No, the fear was as real as fear can be, and burned in me, and when it was no longer tolerable, the woman took a step back, as if she were releasing me, and only then was I back in our bedroom, where I heard Susanna’s steady breathing and saw the moonlight falling softly through the window, and the baby monitor showed our daughter in a deep sleep.
Breakfast: Bright grass and even brighter sun, no clouds, the air full of birds whose names I don’t know; I’ve always regretted that I can’t identify birds by name. The way they let the wind carry them, as effortlessly as if flying were the norm, as if it took hard work to stay on the ground.
At the moment Susanna is reading to Esther for the thousandth time from the book about the mouse and the cheese moon, the little one is laughing and clapping, and I’m quickly finishing my writing before I head out. We’re running low on provisions, someone has to go down to the village, and I volunteered. Get away. Susanna said thank you and held my hand, and I looked into her eyes. They’re not actually blue, more turquoise, with a sprinkling of black.
Will you read me your new scenes?
You don’t really want me to.
Don’t be so sensitive, of course I do.
I don’t have much yet.
It just dawned on me where I know the terrifying woman from. I saw her in the photo on the wall in the laundry room—just to the right of the Miele washing machine and the dryer, I noticed it on the first day. But to get nightmares from that is really too much.
Reading Group Guide
The material presented within this guide is intended to provide topics of discussion for your reading group. You Should Have Left is a haunting portrayal of a man fighting against the unknown, both inside and outside of himself. Please us these questions as guidelines only, and feel free to wander in your discussion!
1. In the beginning, the narrator and his family move to a vacation home in Germany. What is his initial reaction to the setting?
2. How does the relationship between the narrator and his wife seem when they move in? What about his relationship with his daughter?
3. How do the characters/plot from Besties contribute to the story of the narrator and his family?
4. “Marriage. The secret is that you love each other anyway” (p. 9). How do you feel about that statement?
5. After the first unintended words in his journal, and his first nightmare, what did you think of the narrator’s mental state?
6. Discuss the narrator’s trip to the village store. Why do you think the proprietor questions him so closely about Steller? Who/what does Steller represent?
7. The narrator’s reflection seems to keep disappearing. Perhaps a trick of the light? A picture that was nailed to the wall disappears. Do you think the house is trying to drive him crazy? What other explanations might there be?
8. Susanna and the narrator agree to leave immediately. While she’s packing, he discovers evidence of her affair. Do you think it’s a coincidence that this happens when they were all about to get away?
9. Discuss what happens when the narrator tries to use the triangle ruler.
10. The store proprietor tells the narrator that the road has always been there, and local legend says a tower once stood where the house is. “The devil built it and a wizard destroyed it, with God’s help. Or the other way around, a wizard built it, and God destroyed it” (p. 87). How does this fit in with what is happening to the family?
11. The narrator tries to escape down the mountain with his daughter, only to be returned to the place where he started. What is his reaction?
12. “It’s the place itself. It’s not the house. The house is harmless, it’s simply standing where nothing should stand” (p. 102). Discuss what this means.
13. “I know now why they all have faces like that. Why they look the way they look. It’s because of the things they have seen” (p. 103). Who is the narrator describing? Who do you think they are?
14. Do you think the house is trying to make the family leave, or trap them there?
15. How much of what happens to the narrator is due to him going insane?
16. What do you think happens to the narrator at the end?