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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

You Should Have Left

Daniel Kehlmann

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To purchase You Should Have Left

Title: You Should Have Left
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 96 pages
Original in: German
Availability: You Should Have Left - US
You Should Have Left - UK
You Should Have Left - Canada
Du hättest gehen sollen - Deutschland
  • German title: Du hättest gehen sollen
  • Translated by Ross Benjamin
  • You Should Have Left was made into a film in 2020, directed by David Koepp and starring Amanda Seyfried and Kevin Bacon

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Our Assessment:

B : effectively unsettling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 6/2017 Christine Smallwood
Irish Times . 10/6/2017 Eileen Battersby
NZZ . 21/10/2016 Rainer Moritz
The NY Times . 4/7/2017 John Williams
The Spectator . 22/7/2017 Daniel Hahn
TLS . 4/8/2017 Alex Starritt
Die Welt . 16/11/2016 Martin Ebel
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2018 Ulf Zimmermann
Die Zeit . 20/10/2016 Ursula März

  From the Reviews:
  • "The flatness of the tone is what scared me the most (.....) Like Kehlmann’s other novels, You Should Have Left is smart and brisk. He makes entertainment out of metaphysics and is open to more than the occasional haunting: casual talk of ghosts, comic flights of lunacy, excursions into hypnosis, crises of faith. His characters bring an empirical scrutiny to the otherworldly." - Christine Smallwood, Harper's

  • "(W)ry, eerie and increasingly terrifying. Ross Benjamin effectively conveys the cryptic quality of the conversational narrative being uttered by a man who may be actually losing his mind, or, then again, merely in the throes of a great idea. (...) Kehlmann is a formidable observer with a flair for articulating dysfunctional behaviour. Benjamin’s fluid, savvy translation is alert to the fact that every word has relevance, each hesitation and minor pause adds to the building tension." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "All diese Anspielungen mag man erkennen, doch sie täuschen nicht darüber hinweg, dass Kehlmann selbst wenig Geschick zeigt, ein unheimliches Szenario aufzubauen. Mit schnellen Handgriffen plündert er die Motivkiste der phantastischen Literatur (.....) Phantastisch und unheilvoll ist daran herzlich wenig." - Rainer Moritz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "You Should Have Left, in both size and content, feels like a bit of batting practice before the next game that counts. (...) With a premise not exactly built for laughs, Kehlmann still manages a few darkly comic flourishes, especially when it comes to family life. The book can seem like a pamphlet warning against domesticity. " - John Williams, The New York Times

  • "Here he and his translator Ross Benjamin squeeze an enormous amount of readerly anxiety out of very few carefully placed words (the entire book is only 110 tiny pages long). (...) At first glance there may not seem much to this little book, but it has a funny way with dimensions — its effects are amplified, and they linger." - Daniel Hahn, The Spectator

  • "Perhaps because the overall tone -- calls from his agent, bickering with his wife -- is so quotidian, so far from the schlocky omens of genre horror, this does seem genuinely terrifying. Towards the end, however, everything calms down again. (...) Whether that shows us the indifference of the universe, or a master novelist constructing a little game, is delightfully hard to say." - Alex Starritt, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Daniel Kehlmann macht, dass unser eigener Kopf zum Spukhaus wird. Er bleibt der metafiktionale Spieler -- und dreht die Schauerliteratur eine ganze Umdrehung weiter." - Martin Ebel, Die Welt

  • "It's certainly a narrative tour de force: as Kehlmann deftly demonstrates, a good writer can get his readers to believe pretty much anything. (...) As Ross Benjamin conveys it in elegantly straightforward English, this is a writer who has truly gone over the edge." - Ulf Zimmermann, World Literature Today

  • "Man fragt sich, wie dieser Autor es wieder hinbekommen hat, die Realität so aus den Angeln zu heben, dass Zeit und Raum im Ferienhaus eine geradezu kubistische Dimension annehmen und der Drehbuchautor zu seinem eigenen Doppelgänger wird. Nur erschöpft sich Du hättest gehen sollen eben nicht im Handwerk der Verrätselung, kränkelt nicht im Geringsten an anämischer Abstraktheit. (...) Aber der verwegenen Fantastik steht nicht nur eine glasklare, wohltuend gelassene und nie raunende Sprache zur Seite, sondern eben auch enorme Menschen- und Sozialkenntnis." - Ursula März, Die Zeit

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:

       You Should Have Left is a very short novel, narrated by a screenplay writer who has rented an isolated house in the mountains for a working vacation with his wife Susanna and four-year-old daughter Esther. He records the events of six early December days they spend there -- beginning hopefully:

It's fitting that I'm beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings, new ideas, a new beginning.
       But the beginnings aren't really that auspicious: he's still not getting along that well with his wife, and the pressure has been mounting for him to deliver the sequel to his break-through hit, Besties, and he just isn't making much headway. The locale where he hopes to get fresh wind and a fresh start is certainly isolated enough -- a half hour drive, of dangerous hairpin turns, from the nearest village in the valley; the basic setting and set-up is reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining -- and the new, modern house actually looks better than advertised, but unsurprisingly reality proves less idyllic than he had hoped for.
       He does imagine some scenes from the film -- working title: Marriage -- but neither it nor his real-life interaction with his wife are really coming together. The surroundings aren't helping, with both complaining of bad, feverish dreams. Much as he loves his wife, he constantly finds Susanna (and the pressure he feels to produce in front of her) irritating, torn by his feelings and worn down by their everyday life: "I love her, and I don't want any other life . Why do we fight all the time ?" Feelings of inadequacy -- his inability to churn out the screenplay; the fact that: "she has a university education and I don't" -- compound his annoyance, and eventually he has good reason to be even more concerned about the state of his marriage.
       Susanna and the issues he has with her are, at least, tangible; meanwhile, the house turns out to be one of insidious horror -- subtle but defying rationality (and, eventually, even geometry). He learns some of the background of the place -- it seems renters tend to vacate it before their intended stays are up ("That's why Steller always takes payment in advance", one of the locals tells him), and, ominously, that: "Once something happened". Early on he already gets the advice: "Get away quickly", but of course he doesn't heed it; soon enough -- it all happens in a matter of days, after all -- he:
sat down, breathed heavily, and thought with a clarity as if someone else were speaking to me: You should have left. Now it's too late.
       Indeed, things don't get better.
       Kehlmann unfolds his story in effectively creepy fashion, the narrator's world increasingly out of synch, the abyss so temptingly near. The screenplay writer finds -- a terrible realization for any writer -- that: "Words. They don't capture how it really is". Both the reality he is confronted with, especially regarding his wife (though his diminishing professional prospects don't help either), and the increasing unreality of the house make for a world in which he has lost his holds.
       Kehlmann effectively uses the young child as well -- one of the last things the narrator can hold onto, and a mind that still naturally mixes and confuses fantasy and reality -- and their final attempt at fleeing comes to an appropriate conclusion.
       All in all, it's decent and unsettling horror, in a tale that doesn't over-extend itself. A quick and nicely disturbing read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 March 2017

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You Should Have Left: Reviews: You Should Have Left - the movie: Daniel Kehlmann: Other books by Daniel Kehlmann under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Daniel Kehlmann was born in Munich in 1975. He lives in Vienna, where he studied philosophy and literature. He has published several works of fiction.

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© 2017-2023 the complete review

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