Order for £10 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Zbinden's Progress, By Christoph Simon. And Other Stories, £10
Tuesday 18 September 2012
The collaborative publishing ethos of And Other Stories has certainly paid off. Juan Villalobos's Down the Rabbit Hole was shortlisted for the Guardian's First Book Award, and Deborah Levy's Swimming Home has now reached the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize. This tender, restrained celebration of life's simple pleasures by the Swiss author Christoph Simon, beautifully translated by Donal McLaughlin, adds one more string to its bow.
As an elderly widower makes slow progress down the stairs of his retirement home, he tells his Turkish carer, Kâzim, the story of his life. Zbinden extols the virtues of walking as an antidote to "jadedness". Throughout his career as a teacher, he would lecture his pupils on the subject, and at the home he tries to rouse his fellow residents from their lethargy with "a group talk".
Although Zbinden's career and marriage were resolutely ordinary, we get the sense of a life intensely lived and loved. Zbinden would always stop to speak to strangers, observe the play of sunlight or ruminate on a problem. As he points out to Kâzim: "There are a great many examples of scientists, musicians and poets finding surprising solutions for their problems while out for a walk."
Zbinden's reflections are both absurd and poignant. His frequent digressions about the other residents offer us snapshots of once-vibrant lives constricted by old age: Herr Probst is convinced the milk is poisoned; Herr Kleiber thinks he's been robbed; Frau Grundbacher is obsessed with her stomach. A good walk, Zbinden muses, would help them all.
Musing on the death of his wife, he says: "I thought of all the things I wished I'd said to her; of all the things I wished I'd done. In the end, I knew only that we should appreciate each other more." His only other regret is an uneasy relationship with his biochemist son, Markus, which he partly blames on the latter's preference for cars over walking. But when Zbinden attempts to put this right with a simple expression of love, it becomes a life-affirming moment.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant