Last May, I was waiting to pay for the pile of books that I had picked up at Waterstones at Piccadilly Street, London. On the counter was a book bearing a soft-focused photo of a bedroom with an unclothed woman in the background. Printed over it in large white font: SEVEN YEARS – PETER STAMM.
I enjoyed this book tremendously and found the prose incredibly engaging, as Stamm described the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, Alex, interspersed with detailed observations of his surroundings and those closest to him – his wife and daughter, as well as Ivona, the plain Polish immigrant with whom he had a seemingly hypnotic on-and-off affair over several years.
I tried to not finish Seven Years (translated by Michael Hofmann) in one sitting and eventually turned the last page after two days. It was difficult to slow down, as the story so entranced me… I always felt like there will be a crash-and-burn scenario anytime, but it never quite materialised, and instead Alex would continue on his meandering path.
However fascinated I am by the storyline, I’m not going to write a book review about Seven Years as I’m not sure if I fully understand what I’ve read, including the architectural metaphors. If you’re interested, here’s a review in The Guardian. In another review, someone wrote about how the novel worms “into the reader’s mind, giving them something to gnaw on” – which I agree. There’s something about Seven Years that I’ve not quite shaken off (and I’m not sure if I want to anyway). Perhaps I’ll read Seven Years again in a few months’ time and it would be interesting to see if I’d feel any different about it.In the diptych above, both photos were taken on the same day. The latter is an immense illustration of a starving naked man with hollowed-out eyes at the carrefour near Métro Porte de Halle in Brussels. From the first time I set eyes on this disturbing image, I’ve always been struck by it; I’m sure this is the intended effect of the painter.
That weekend afternoon, when I passed it after having finished Seven Years earlier in the day, I knew I had to pair the two together. There’s this inexplicable gnawing sensation…