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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Das Leben der Wünsche

Thomas Glavinic

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To purchase Das Leben der Wünsche

Title: Das Leben der Wünsche
Author: Thomas Glavinic
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 318 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Das Leben der Wünsche - Deutschland
  • Das Leben der Wünsche has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly effective novel of life and its uncertainties

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A 15/8/2009 Felicitas von Lovenberg
NZZ . 19/8/2009 Franz Haas
Die Welt . 22/8/2009 Uwe Wittstock

  From the Reviews:
  • "Das Leben der Wünsche ist die Geschichte einer fortwährenden Entäußerung. Ein großer Liebesroman und als solcher ein Glaubensbekenntnis. Ein Panikraum und ein Horrortrip aus nächster Nähe. Glavinic zeigt uns einen Mann, der sich selbst schon lange fremd geworden ist und der verzweifelt versucht, mit sich ins Reine zu kommen, Klarheit und Ruhe zu finden. (...) Dass es Glavinic gelingt, sein ungeheuerliches Sujet auf so konsequente, überzeugende Weise zu variieren und fortzuführen, noch dazu einen früheren Charakter zu zitieren, ohne sich im Geringsten zu wiederholen, bekräftigt seinen Rang als einer der bemerkenswertesten, innovativsten Schriftsteller seiner Generation -- und als einer der vielseitigsten." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Glavinic evoziert meisterhaft das Grauen in unschuldig banalen Situationen, das ungewollt Mörderische in scheinbar harmlos bösen Gedanken, und er staffiert Das Leben der Wünsche mit einem eindrucksvoll dichten Netz von symbolischen Unheimlichkeiten aus." - Franz Haas, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Glavinic ist ein fähiger Erzähler, und es gelingt ihm, mit allerlei rätselhaften Andeutungen und überraschenden Wendungen auch dann noch für Spannung zu sorgen, wenn man das Erzählprinzip längst durchschaut hat. Ein wenig fad und schmalspurig kommt einem Jonas dennoch vor." - Uwe Wittstock, Die Welt

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:

       The name of the protagonist of Das Leben der Wünsche ('The Life of Wishes') -- Jonas -- is the same as that of the main character in Glavinic's previous novel, Night Work, and a following one, Das größere Wunder, and the books also all have a love-interest named Marie in common, but the world of each of these different; 'Jonas' is more a template for exploring extreme scenarios than a recurring specific character.
       In Das Leben der Wünsche the extreme scenario is one of wish-fulfilment: the novel opens with a stranger approaching Jonas -- a stranger who knows personal details about him -- and offering him three wishes. Anything he wants. Jonas is unconvinced -- he reasonably assumes the guy is some nut -- but the stranger is obstinate. Among the things Jonas eventually admits to wanting is:

Verstehen will ich. Ich verstehe nämlich nichts. Habe nie etwas verstanden und werde nie etwas verstehen. Ich will wissen. Unbedingt, ja !

[I want to understand. Because I don't understand anything. I've never understood anything, and I never will. I want to know. Desperately, yes !]
       Jonas works at an advertising agency, 'Three Sisters' -- a job he's adequate at, but no more, and a work environment that is laid back, to say the least; as the novel progresses, the agency seems to be falling apart a bit -- though it's substantial enough to totter on despite that. Jonas is married, to Helen, and they have two sons, of pre-school and early school age; the marriage is a reasonably well-functioning one, and while Jonas is no paragon -- things tend to slip his mind, and he doesn't always agree with Helen's ways of doing things -- he's a fairly invested father who handles the kids quite well (when he doesn't flee the house, as he admittedly does rather often, leaving them with a sitter). He does also have a dark secret on the side: the affair he's been having with Marie, whom he is passionately in love with. There's a man in her life, too, and a young child, and neither is willing to pull the trigger and upend so many lives to be together, but the attraction is nearly overwhelming. They constantly text each other between their too rare meetings.
       The wish-promising stranger told him to give the wishes time to unfold (and also that he couldn't wish for anything else), but the immediate changes are small. There are pleasant and surprising ones -- all of a sudden his stock portfolio is performing very well -- but there's only a limited amount that is tangibly different at first.
       Catastrophe hovers over Jonas' world -- beginning with the distant and limited threat of an asteroid, on course for a near-miss (or maybe not ...) of the earth. But Jonas also witnesses more immediate disaster, right in front of him: car accidents, a man shot in a robbery, and one even more spectacular catastrophe that he avoids, consciously or subconsciously or inexplicably. Beyond that, there's a sense of doom, waves of end of days feel -- including a brilliant scene of the waters rising one night, and Jonas and others making their way through the completely flooded streets, only to wake the next day to a world returned to near normal (with a few open questions ...). (Extreme rising and falling waters recur in the novel's denouement as well, to similarly striking effect.) A constant reminder is also a former girlfriend of Jonas', whom he remains close to -- who is now terminally ill, eventually facing what should be her final days. There's also Jonas' dead father's empty apartment he continues to keep and visit, a reminder of and wallow in the past, another piece of almost pure atmosphere in a novel heavy with it.
       The most dramatic change comes early on: Helen stands in the way of his happiness with Marie -- and Helen dies. It is not a clarifying situation: for the time being, Marie still has an intact family that she doesn't want to think about breaking up, and even aside from this relationship, Jonas finds himself still very much -- even increasingly -- at sea, haunted by the other experiences he has, by vivid nightmares -- including some that blend into real-life.
       Glavinic builds this up quite well -- he's good with atmosphere, and manages some scenes of excellent (and sometimes disturbing) suspense. There are no easy answers for Jonas -- but so also not for the reader. And in the final section, Glavinic heads perhaps a bit too directly and obviously to resolution.
       Still, overall, this is an interesting novel, refusing to take the obvious and easy routes and posing difficult questions -- without pretending to know (most of) the answers. Jonas can be somewhat annoying in his drift, indecisiveness, and tendency towards apparent aimlessness but his is still a reasonably interesting journey -- and quick and certainly varied enough to engage the reader.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 August 2019

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Das Leben der Wünsche:
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Reviews: Other books by Thomas Glavinic under review: Thomas Glavinic: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Thomas Glavinic was born in 1972.

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© 2019 the complete review

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