Saturday 10 February 2018

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz   {Reviewed by THOMAS} 
The degree of control any of us have over our life is undoubtedly, if measured against the degree of force bearing down on us in the form of history, negligible, but we are generally spared realisation of the full extent of this negligibility unless history rolls more heavily upon us, especially if we are constituted to, or are caused to, lie where its tread impacts uncushioned upon its path. History hits the unfortunate hardest: those at the bottom of the heap, so to call it, are society’s most expendable and the first to absorb the impact of the weight of things. Our social structures are largely concerned with positioning others to take our place in the way of approaching disaster. Marianne Fritz’s novel The Weight of Things is written is a brisk, almost satirical tone, yet it slowly, as it jumps back and forth in time, closing in on the pivotal act of the book, reveals depths of suffering and harm absorbed by its most vulnerable characters. What does it mean to survive when others do not survive? What does it mean to have a body following a disaster that deprived so many of theirs (and that continues to press itself towards the destruction of the bodies of the survivors)? Following the Second World War, Berta learns from Wilhelm that Rudolph, the music teacher whose child she carries, has been killed, and that Rudolph has charged Wilhelm to care for Berta. He marries her and she bears two children: Little Rudolph and Little Berta. The attention shown Berta by the two men draws the envy of Berta’s sister Wilhelmina, who is intent on poisoning the relationship and taking Berta’s place. The doubling of the characters’ names: Berta/Little Berta, Rudolph/Little Rudolph, Wilhelm/Wilhelmina serves to further depersonalise the forces that act through them, limited as they are in their capacities to understand those forces, as well as to manifest the contrapuntal musical structure of the novel. Wilhelm, with his job as a ‘chauffeur and come-hither boy’ for an aristocratic playboy, puts his employer’s interests before those of his family, and, with his ‘chauffeur philosophy’ (he extols the virtues of seeing obstacles early enough to avoid them), preserves his ignorance and passivity as Berta falls under the weight of things. Despite the love she expends on her children, Berta cannot see them ultimately as anything other than failed creations for which she is responsible, in a world in which a worthwhile life is impossible. The act she commits is so much a result of the mental collapse which manifests itself in her, though its mechanisms remain beyond her and opaque to her, that it is not inconsistent with her natural fatalism and resignation (the weight of things having conditioned her to its irresistibility). The frame narrative of this multitemporal novel has Wilhelm and Wilhelmina visiting Berta in the psychiatric hospital (or ‘fortress’) in which she is contained, where a final cruelty is visited upon her and she commits the ultimate resignation, demonstrating that more harm can be done to subjectivity that its removal from the world. 

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