The winner of the prestigious Friedrich Hölderlin Prize offers a melancholic new novel about a Swiss writer haunted by his doppelganger, blurring the line between past and present, fiction and reality in his attempt to outrun the unknown.
For those new to Stamm, they will find in his stylistic approach an immediate and uncanny resemblance to Hemingway: a calm, clean prose bereft of any adornment whatsoever, something Hofmann has faithfully tended to with each passing translation. Yet an essential difference between these two careful storytellers is a strange premonition of various disturbances to follow in Stamm’s narratives of contemporary middle-class Europeans, many of which are frighteningly easy to slide into while reading without being aware of it. A psychological literature of ordinary lives gone awry, presenting itself as anything but at first glance ... Stamm’s latest novel The Sweet Indifference of the World, however, may mark a slight departure for him—with emphasis on slight. Proving steadfast in tone and depiction of his characters, as well as in the constant limitations he places around them, Stamm refuses to employ, for instance, the earth-shattering plot development or profound epiphany for his protagonists, instead relying on the shaky foundations of human relationships to play themselves out, often to deceptively unremarkable ends ... a hidden anxiety settles on everything in Indifference like a huge morning fog drivers can’t help but speed headlong into while on the interstate and are left to wonder midway through if they will ever see the other side of it ... The fascinating overall effect of Indifference makes it a worthy inclusion among Stamm’s other compelling novels, and a captivating suggestion of what may yet come should this work represent a slim veering for him.
For Stamm, like Stendhal before him, erotic love is not something given to or withheld from you so much as an act of the imagination, and the kind of fictionalizing it requires is very much like writing a story. Rather than demand love and recognition, Stamm’s characters are more generous, more accepting, more creative ... The book is rife with juxtapositions between art, imagination, and memory ... Whatever Stamm is trying to do, his questions about the relationship between art and life are happily left unresolved. I don’t think the novel contributes much as metafiction. But its meditations on how erotic love may work are fascinating. And of course Stamm’s prose, as always, is lean, deliberate, and gorgeous.
Stamm doesn’t provide neat, topped-and-tailed answers to thorny questions, nor does he rationalize his characters’ decisions ... while Stamm resists offering clear-cut solutions, his stripped-down, pared-back prose still works wonders, exploring complex issues and probing singular minds in a thoroughly compelling way.