Magazine article The Spectator

'You Should Have Left', by Daniel Kehlmann, Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'You Should Have Left', by Daniel Kehlmann, Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin - Review

Article excerpt

A screenwriter sits in a lovely rented house somewhere up an Alp in early December. The air is clear, the views stunning, the isolation splendid. He rented the home through Airbnb -- surprisingly cheaply, as it happens. He has come to this place for a family holiday with his wife Susanna and their four-year-old, Esther, but also to get some peace and quiet in which to concentrate on his current job. His last movie, Besties, was a smash hit, and now the producer wants a screenplay for Besties 2, and the sooner the better. And as we read through his notebook, in which he's hoping the screenplay will take shape, the whole set-up seems quite promising, really.

True, his initial ideas for the movie aren't quite as brilliantly inspired as he'd hoped, but they'll do for now. And true, his relationship with Susanna -- a beautiful actress somewhat out of his league -- is under a bit of strain for reasons we'll discover; but it'll probably work itself out. And yes, true, there's something odd about the house, but oh, I'm sure it's nothing to worry about...

That's where he's wrong, of course: there most definitely is something to worry about. The temporarily disappearing reflections, for starters. That thing with the baby monitor. The woman from the photo in the laundry room. The unexplained messages. The whole business with the right angles. (Yes, this book manages to make the basic rules of geometry really scary.) The working notebook is soon overtaken not only by domestic matters but also a sense of menacing claustrophobia, even in these vast open spaces, as the characters -- and readers -- teeter on the edge of an inexplicable abyss. …

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