Gantenbein : a novel

by Max Frisch

Other authorsMichael Bullock (Translator)
Paperback, 1965





San Diego : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982, c1965.


A stranger walks out of a bar an is later found dead at the wheel of his car. The narrator creates the story of this man-or, rather, two stories, based on the two personae that he has imagined. One of these is named Enderlin; the other, Gantenbein. Originally published as A Wilderness of Mirrors. Translated by Michael Bullock. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
This was Frisch's third mature novel, written after his break-up with Ingeborg Bachmann, a complicated exploration of fiction and role-playing as they enter into both real life and the occupation of storytelling.

The "I" figure of the book works through a baffling and contradictory series of possible scenarios involving himself and a character called Enderlin, who sometimes seems to be himself and sometimes a separate person. Enderlin in turn imagines himself as Gantenbein, a man who is pretending to be blind, and in that capacity marries the actress Lila, who seems to be (but isn't necessarily) identical with a woman Enderlin (or possibly "I") has met on a business trip to another city. Gantenbein also makes friends with a woman called Camilla Huber: his assumed blindness allows him not to notice that her pretended occupation of manicurist is just a front for prostitution, so he gives her pleasure by going to have his nails done whilst telling her stories. These stories are the only parts of the book in the past tense — everything else is narrated in the present or future/conditional/subjunctive ("But what if...?").

The idea seems to be that social identity is always a kind of pretence, or at least that we can never be sure that we experience an interaction or a relationship in the same way as others do. Frisch talked about truth as the absence that is left when we have explored all the fictions. I'm not sure! What stuck with me from this book was not so much all the sophisticated stuff about men in suits and women in smart costumes who spend most of their time in airports and business hotels and are obsessed with getting their smoking behaviour and whisky-drinking right, but the weird, untethered stories that open and close the book: an unidentified man who has left a hospital in panic, wearing only spectacles and a wrist-watch, runs through the centre of Zürich; the body of an unknown man floats serenely down the Limmat pursued by the police who have inexpertly been trying to fish it out, and does not come to rest until it has left the city centre altogether.
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