... brilliant ... speculative fiction of a distinctly existential sort, where the subject being speculated on is not what happened to the world, but what happens to reality when society is stripped away ... her adventures are mundane but with very high stakes, and at key emotional moments her report gives way to poignant self-reflection ... Part of [Haushofer's] genius in The Wall is that she never allows the story to drift into symbolism or analogy, as I just did by comparing physical and psychological walls. The reader is at all times kept in the situation of the narrator, forced to make sense of the circumstances she has been given. Nothing resolves, yet the book is constantly resonating: a reference to nuclear war in the opening pages, for example, sets up an allegorical possibility that is never followed up on, but also never goes away. Nor do the narrator’s speculations about the wall yield clarifying answers. The wall is simply a fact, a new situation, and to the extent that the novel is either utopian or dystopian—it has been called both, in addition to all the other things it has been called—this is because its subject is neither the wall nor the world that created it, but the experiences of one very warmhearted, astute, resilient woman, whose solitary reality is so sane and convincing as to make our own world seem a little otherworldly.
... an abundance of fine detail. The language, translated from German by Whiteside, is as practical and unadorned as the narrator herself. Any flourishes on display are reserved for philosophical inquiry, when she has the time to sit and reflect. Given over as the novel is to observation and patient recollection, the result is a voice both honest and generous. Haushofer’s eye for animal life is nothing short of miraculous, finding the kernel of their natures in one or two lines ... a fulfillment of what Le Guin’s essay called for: not a science fiction tied up in conquest and techno-heroes, but one grounded in realism, rather than mythology. 'It is a strange realism,' Le Guin writes, 'but it is a strange reality.'
... a survival story for grown-ups that’s as pulse-thumping as it is thought-provoking ... The novel has earned high praise over the decades, and continues to feel remarkably well-tuned to the concerns of the day ... The woman’s knotty relationship with the cat – and, later, her progeny – provides one of the book’s rich pleasures ... Haushofer chronicles the day-to-day hardships and feats of this unconventional quartet in one fell swoop: From first page until last nothing slows the narrative flow, neither chapter breaks nor white space. It’s a stylistic choice that befits the inescapable and unending demands of survival in a northern forest. Readers must decide when to take a break and a breath, although it’s tempting to power through, agog ... Haushofer takes her time describing these day-to-day efforts and the attendant, hard-fought progress. It’s engrossing reading. Page after page, it’s hard not to wonder, “'What would I do in her shoes?' ... Smoothly translated by Shaun Whiteside, the novel’s unadorned prose and minimal references to its particular era give it a timeless, meditative weight. The most vivid descriptions seem reserved for the power, threat, and beauty of the ever-present landscape ... What sets The Wall apart from other survival tales is the removal of the world beyond. While Haushofer never explains exactly what the barrier is, who made it, and why, the woman muses occasionally about its origins and implications. With no one around to convince but herself, the 'why' becomes pointless. Besides, food must be cultivated and animals tended to ... Six decades later, The Wall continues to deliver a remarkable tale of determination that lingers long after its final page.
... a book that uses a calamitous rip in time to expose the very ordinary ruptures that, smoothed over by the relentless turning of the clock, we cavalierly disregard ... Ceasing to be a human being can mean something literal (death) or something harder to define (a loss of humanity). The Wall is interested in both, and it is most interesting because of what it reveals about the effect of one on the other: how the specter of losing your life changes the desire to hold on to your self. On its surface, the book seems like a fairly predictable piece of survival literature...Yet the matter of life and death, foregrounded in all its practical details, looms over the novel as more than just a test of self-reliance. The central question of the story is not how to sustain existence but how to understand identity—what it’s really made of, and whether it was made to endure.
... brutal and absorbing ... seems to belong among the gaggle of contemporary books that examine the isolated life in our pandemic era, and it does. I have not encountered a more apt metaphor for the sudden shearing away of my own hyper-social, bare-faced, pre-pandemic life. But The Wall is also a resonant and realistic account of a widowed, middle-aged woman, disenchanted and depressed with the sum of her days, who is presented with the opportunity to enact what has previously eluded her: a life of her own imagining. In this way, Haushofer’s book is one of the most profoundly feminist works of the past century ... Perhaps what makes reading The Wall so often thrilling is that the narrator faces the challenges of survival and fights every day to stay alive. The novel is propelled by possibility and adventure, a curiosity about what a woman becomes when she is freed of the obligation of family and gender—not only for a moment, but permanently. What new pleasures might she discover; what peculiar ideas might she explore? ... offers a feminist alternative to contemporary life, it’s thoroughly austere, defined by constant toil, unending solitude, the ever-present threat of danger. Still, every woman I know who has read it has been gripped by it. It’s exciting to encounter a subversion of the conventional survival story—a genre generally considered to be the province of men and masculine attitudes. In places, The Wall suggests a feminist alternative that cherishes nature. It also orients women as the primary forces of change in our own lives, especially when the future flickers with peril.
Haushofer’s sentences are simple and concise, and full of careful thought. The ideas she expresses are so important that you wonder how you have managed to get by without them. There is something fundamental about The Wall in particular that reaches far beyond the supposed territory of its story. The book is a lesson—and an agonizing one—on how one might come to live among things neglected with cost. That New Directions has recently reissued it with an elegant picture of a cow on the front should be a great event for everyone who cares about literature ... Though The Wall shares the broader fascination of postapocalyptic fiction with a slow and inevitable loss of reference—of what it looks like when objects, flora, and creatures cast off the meanings we have assigned to them—it is more interested in the transformative potential of this kind of quiet interlude. Stock images of clocks that have stopped working and roads overgrown with weeds soon give way to an extended meditation on identity and purpose ... Throughout the novel, there is a refusal to spell things out, to speculate, and instead an intense interest in rhythms ... despite the terrible event that ends this relative idyll, some hope is left with the reader after finishing The Wall, as Haushofer’s quiet philosophy does not admit of despair.
... a lucid translation ... The return to the now solidly established horror, in realism’s steady pacing, is always more visceral than the initial encounter ... a dystopian novel that gradually becomes a utopian one, as our narrator makes a new community. Haushofer’s inhabiting of animality is remarkably tender and selfless ... Haushofer is a rather terrifying writer, brutal both in her unillusioned clarity and in the calm with which she tracks the consequences of her fictional premises ... one of those books which effortlessly wring meaning upon meaning from their opening narrative conceit ... pulses with a meaningful politics that is always in danger of being unravelled by the novel’s own movement toward a resigned, fatalistic, strictly apolitical naturism.
... the most interesting book I’ve read all year ... While Haushofer’s narrator becomes more alive, a witness to the drama of stars and nature, the novel is starkly ambivalent about this ... Haushofer pares away what I cannot fathom losing: conversation, hunger, desire. But what she keeps is instructive about the needs of our attention: sharp pacing, with surprises coming often and contradictions for each epiphany the narrator catches; sensual descriptions of both fear and satisfaction; the drama of birth and death.
Haushofer's vision is extreme, but it's interesting that she does give her protagonist this close and meaningful company: she can imagine survival without human companionship, but seems unable to imagine her protagonist completely cut off from any social contact, even if that is just with animals. As is, this communing-with-nature is an important element of the novel -- though of course also limiting it as a vision of a (wo)man truly alone ... an almost humdrum novel -- an adventure novel with limited adventure, a commentary on modern civilization with barely any outright commentary -- yet there's so much strength to the controlled quiet of the narrator's voice that it is easily compelling. Haushofer beautifully builds her story off her premise, and in avoiding efforts at the sensational has created an all the more powerful, haunting work.
... amazing ... You cannot make this plot sound gripping. In fact, a book about a woman whose major companion is her dog may sound like tortuous reading. But The Wall is gripping, please trust me, though why is still somewhat of a mystery to me. How does Haushofer make a woman’s minute reflections of being alone so fascinating? Haushofer writes cleanly and brilliantly, with masterful precision ... a quiet book about domesticity, planting, beauty, the rhythms of keeping house, the land, human nature—and what a person can love in a people-less world.
Masterfully narrated ... The hinge between the old and new worlds is the disappearance of other people ... Can it be mere coincidence that both of the fundamental human habits she keeps up—gardening and burial—are literally grounded in the earth? Over time, these practices of seeding futurity and interring memory gradually get uncoupled from a larger human context and become invested instead in the nonhuman forms of life that structure her new world and the home she makes of it ... The mountains and forests of The Wall are saturated, not just with significance but with actual signification.
... a study in survival but also a study of being human ... What is the wall? An allusion to the Cold War? An allegory for the Berlin Wall? Yes. But it also serves as a metaphorical stand-in for so many restrictions. It creates a situation that allows the main character and the reader to examine our ontology and what we think makes us real ... Strangely relevant as we begin to reflect on our own experiences during the pandemic shutdown.
The natural world which it describes with such rapt attention is cupped in the larger receptacle of a vivid and sinister dream, a dream we seem to have had many times before and which on each retelling leads to the same scene of horror at its climax ... a study in dread.