While vacationing in a hunting lodge in the Austrian mountains, a middle-aged woman awakens one morning to find herself separated from the rest of the world by an invisible wall. With a cat, a dog, and a cow as her sole companions, she learns how to survive and cope with her loneliness. Originally published in 1963.
... 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.