The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (translated by Jamie Bulloch)

This book, Das Muschelessen in German, is one of the shortlisted books for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. It was first published in 1990 and was awarded the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis in 1990, one of Germany’s top literary prizes. It is a short novella of about 100 pages and the action all takes place one evening in a family home, where the mother,daughter and son have prepared the father’s favourite meal, mussels, in anticipation of the father receiving promotion at work. The father doesn’t turn up. Tension rises while they wait for him and once they start on the wine, they begin to talk about their father, their family life and it becomes apparent that the father has been a domineering bully and worse to all three of them. The story is told from the daughter’s point of view in an intense stream of consciousness, dealing with her own experiences and feelings, her father’s rules,ideals and perceptions of family life and her mother’s responses, highlighting the massive gap between appearance and reality and asking questions about the nature of family life, love and relationships. I was curious that a book written 24 years ago had been shortlisted for this prize, but reading it, realise it depicts domestic violence and emotional abuse, still sadly problems today. The stream of consciousness as a technique for unfolding the family’s history and the emotionally charged and somewhat claustrophobic setting of the family meal work perfectly as a tool to tell this tale.
I read this book in German so cannot comment on the translation- which is equally awarded by the prize- but will do so once I get hold of it!

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One Response to The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (translated by Jamie Bulloch)

  1. An excellent small book by a author that is somewhat underrated; Vanderbeke writes excellent prose. The Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis is by the way an Austrian award (not that it really matters, but our Austrian friends will appreciate this statement.)

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