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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Jib Door

Marlen Haushofer

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To purchase The Jib Door

Title: The Jib Door
Author: Marlen Haushofer
Genre: Novel
Written: 1957 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 239 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Jib Door - US
The Jib Door - UK
The Jib Door - Canada
La porte dérobée - France
Die Tapetentür - Deutschland
  • German title: Die Tapetentür
  • Translated and with a Preface by Jerome Carlton Samuelson

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Our Assessment:

B : well-done and effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Books Abroad . (32:3) Summer/1958 Marianne Bonwit
Modern Austrian Lit. . (34:1/2) 2001 M-R.Kecht

  From the Reviews:
  • "Typically Austrian in subtlety of diction and shades of meanings, perhaps also typically a woman's novel (...) What Françoise Sagan attempts, Marlen Haushofer achieves, through greater maturity and compassion." - Marianne Bonwit, Books Abroad

  • "Even if Marlen Haushofer's The Jib Door is not her best novel (a non-German speaker will have a hard time finding her books in English), American undergraduates will probably consider her vivid, prosaic portrait of the protagonist Annette's life, with all its quotidian routines and travails and its constrictive structures, indicative of particular social patterns that merit closer examination and call for cross-cultural comparisons." - Maria-Regina Kecht, Modern Austrian Literature

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: I have not seen Jerome Carlton Samuelson's English translation of this novel; this review is based on the German original, and all translations are mine.]

       The main character in The Jib Door is Annette, a librarian, just about thirty when the novel starts. Much of the novel is presented in the third person -- focused entirely on Annette -- but there are also longer sections consisting of her diary-entries, an even more direct presentation of her thoughts and feelings.
       Briefly married some ten years earlier, she is a war-widow, her first marriage so short she barely has memories of her husband. She has had several lovers since then, and is involved -- not particularly satisfyingly -- with Alexander when the novel opens; conveniently, he gets soon sent to Paris as part of an exchange program, getting him out of the way and more or less out of her life. She also finds out that her long absent father has passed away, and has to go to the offices of a lawyer, Dr. Gregor Xanthner, to deal with some paperwork; they soon become lovers and, within a matter of months, when she gets pregnant, marry.
       Annette's diary-entries are largely very introspective, with a great deal of self-reflection, and the third-person sections follow her similarly closely. There are few descriptions of exchanges or conversations with others, and even Gregor remains a largely distant figure for the reader. Annette does not chronicle the development of their relationship, but rather merely presents herself immersed in it and mentions bits and pieces -- leaving her apartment to move in with him, or going on Sunday outings. He lives very much for the moment, putting the past (including a previous marriage) behind him, and is in many ways different from her; she is passionately in love with him -- and especially taken by the physical aspect of their relationship.
       Much of Annette's reflection is about men and women, generalizing about both -- sometimes nicely sharply, as when she writes:

Früher einmal bildete ich mir ein, Männer leichter ertragen zu können als Frauen, jetzt fangen sie an, mir auf die Nerven zu fallen. Frauen sind, so unangenehm sie sein können, doch viel individueller und weniger eitel. Außerdem kommt man mit ihnen (von Ausnahmen abgesehen) nicht in die peinliche Lage, daß sie plötzlich, mitten im Gespräch, anfangen, einem die Bluse aufzuknöpfen. Diese letztere Eigenschaft schätze ich an Frauen besonders.

[I used to think I could put up with men more easily than women, but now they're starting to get on my nerves. Women, as unpleasant as they can be, are much more individual and less vain. Besides, with them (leaving aside some exceptions) you don't end up in the embarrassing situation where they suddenly start unbuttoning your blouse in the middle of a conversation. I particularly appreciate this last quality in women.]
       She makes an effort to maintain some independence and sense of self -- continuing to work is important to her, for example -- but struggles also with this.
       Annette is marked by her upbringing, having never known her mother and with her father an absent figure as well. She was raised by an aunt who tried very hard to shape the young girl -- but was also undermined in this by her brother, Annette's Uncle Eugen, who helped ensure she remained a 'completely normal and extremely troublesome child'. Uncle Eugen also continues to be a presence in her life, a non-judgmental anchor; she does not go out of her way to lean on him, but he certainly provides a hold that is welcome.
       Annette often describes her vivid dreams -- and one of the central episodes of the novel is the long dream she relates that also features the 'jib door' of the title. (They should still have gone with another title for the translation .....)
       Focused so intensely on her self, Annette also frequently addresses her state of mind as well as her physical state -- quite dispassionately, and without feeling sorry for herself. A book-person, she not only constantly engages with literature (as part of her job, for one), but also sees through a literary lens, including through her diary-writing, as well as suggested by observations such as:
Ein Romanautor sollte nichts anderes sein als ein Zuschauer, der den Menschen und Vorgängen in seinem Buch Zeit läßt, sich behutsam zu entwickeln.

[A novelist should be nothing more than a spectator who gives the people and events in his book time to develop carefully.]
       Certainly, her author -- Haushofer -- seems to be trying to put that into practice in this novel. Tellingly then, also, a major shift comes late in the novel as Annette decides she will stop writing in her diary -- and destroy it. Her uncle approves, his feeling being that: 'One shouldn't preserve diaries; it's enough that one writes them'.
       Practically the only person Annette goes into fuller detail about, other than her uncle, is her one real friend -- the woman she gives her apartment to when she moves out, for example, and someone who only gives as presents things that she herself likes, even if the recipient doesn't care for them (like the sweets she often brings Annette, even though Annette doesn't particularly like sweets) -- a woman called 'Meta' (which presumably didn't seem as on the nose when the novel came out in 1957 than it does now), Meanwhile, Gregor becomes more of a presence through his absence, as he takes to spending evenings away, Annette certain that he is having affairs (and relatively resigned about that).
       Already early on, Annette mentions:
Da Lesen mein Beruf ist, ergreift mich nur noch selten ein Buch. Adrienne Mesurat, eines dieser wenigen Bücher.

[Since reading is my job, it's only rarely that a book still seizes hold of me. Adrienne Mesurat, one of those few books.]
       Building on this, she states that a writer:
muß wissen, daß das Schicksal eines Menschen sich aus Kindheitserlebnissen und Charakteranlagen entwickelt.

[must know that a person's destiny evolves out of childhood experiences and character traits.]
       Annette certainly feels hers has, and there's a sense of her being unable to escape or alter it; the great surprise to her is the deep (and physical) passion she feels for Gregor, which then shapes some of the direction her fate takes.
       This is a fine life-study, and Annette a strong -- and strongly drawn -- character. Haushofer is a talented writer, and shows a deft touch in the shaping and presentation of her story, leaving much seemingly left unsaid and not shown -- there are barely any sorts of exchanges with Gregor, for example -- yet still conveying all that is essential. There's a grimness to the tale -- a reflection of the times, too -- but The Jib Door is a strong piece of work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 November 2023

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The Jib Door: Reviews: Marlen Haushofer: Other books by Marlen Haushofer under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Marlen Haushofer lived 1920 to 1970.

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© 2023 the complete review

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