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Ludwigs Zimmer. (Fiction).

Alois Hotschnig. Ludwigs Zimmer Cologne. Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2000. 174 pages. DM 29.90 ISBN 3-462-02923-1

CARINTHIA, THE SOUTHERNMOST province of Austria, is the beautiful locale of Ludwigs Zimmer. Kurt Weber inherits a house in Landskron, one of the lovely villages near Villach. His new home, on the banks of a lake, is in a sense the real, if nonhuman, protagonist of the novel. From the moment he moved in, Weber felt both drawn to its arcane past and involved with unraveling the chronicle of the house. It was bequeathed to him by someone who drowned in the lake and left behind the enigma of its history, which in turn becomes an obsession to his successor.

Weber engages neighbors in dialogues to uncover the mystery of the place and its annals of crimes committed and guilt shouldered. He makes no progress until one day an old woman locks herself in the house, and when Weber follows through he finds a secret, cobweb-covered alcove leading to a room which finally reveals a glimpse of the secret. It all goes back to the second world war, resistance to the Nazi rule, betrayal and denunciation, concentration camp and British occupation. Nor is the love angle missing.

Readers acquainted with the taciturnity of pockets of rural Austria, especially as it applies to the Nazi past, will not be surprised at the "labor-induced" emergence of the truth as finally uncovered. At first the reader is likely to think of Alois Hotschnig's novel as a haunted-house story in the spirit of E. T. A. Hoffmann or Edgar Allan Poe. But this would be deceptive. Despite hints of a curse and other signs and tokens of bewitchment, Ludwigs Zimmer is more like a detective story. The constant emphasis on cemeteries, drownings, and such morbid dicta as "Home is where a dead relative lies buried" are part of the pathos of the novel. So is the melancholy misanthropy of Weber/Hotschnig, which often reminds one of Sartre's "Hell is other people," though Weber includes himself in the misanthropy and withdraws from human bonding, except where investigation into the riddle of his property necessitates commerce with others.

Hotschnig is an appealing writer who succeeds in forcing the conundrum of his house into daylight by absorbing confessions, fragmentary quasi-evidence or inference, and shadowy recollections of neighbors, in order to come to grips with the genesis of hidden guilt -- a difficult assignment. To say one enjoyed the book is like saying one enjoyed reading the death description of poor little Hanno Buddenbrook. But this reader certainly appreciated the thoroughly fine writing and its capturing of the metaphysical implications of human guilt and conflict. The novel put me in mind of Karl Jaspers's wise comments on the part played by culpability and sinfulness in the general scheme of things.

Sometimes it is difficult to be sure who is talking to whom in Ludwigs Zimmer. But this flaw is easily outweighed by Hotschnig's gift for structuring a plot out of recondite dialogues and morsels of inference. He should try his hand one day at a mystery -- in the criminal sense, I mean.
Robert Schwarz
Florida Atlantic University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Schwarz, Robert
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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