This may be the most beautiful book you’ll ever read, and that’s not just my opinion, its official. The book, along with another of Schalansky’s works (An Atlas of remote Islands) has won the prize for ‘the most beautiful German book’. It’s also no wonder that the book is aesthetically pleasing as it is, as Schalansky is also a book designer, as well as an author.
In this novel, we become accustomed with a high-school biology teacher who works her class as an army officer would, regimented and strict. Her approach is clear with every word of the page. However you can also see a softer side that peeks through the stern exterior. The thing that stood out for me was not only the appearance of the book itself, but also the way that the sentences are physically structured- short and sharp and often to the point.
Her philosophy is apparent from the off, only the strong survive…’survival of the fittest’. The issue is that because of her teaching (and living) style she is unaware of the downward spiral of one of her pupils. Other than this, there isn’t really a strong narrative, yet that is obviously what Schalansky is aiming for. If you read ‘Stoner’ by John Williams, and enjoyed it, then you’ll enjoy this also. The similarity between the two is that the focus is on one individual, living their life apparently unaware of their exact surroundings, plodding through life with no sense of ending.
The copy I read of this was the same as the final print copy (now available in ‘all good bookshops’), which is not your conventional piece of fiction. Styled to look somewhat like a textbook / academic science book, it comes complete with scientific drawings in the place of chapter headings. Just brilliant to look and also brilliant to read.
Buy from Waterstones.com
Hardback and eBook are out now from Bloomsbury Books.