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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Story of My Wife

Füst Milán

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To purchase The Story of My Wife

Title: The Story of My Wife
Author: Füst Milán
Genre: Novel
Written: 1942 (Eng. 1987)
Length: 341 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: The Story of My Wife - US
The Story of My Wife - UK
The Story of My Wife - Canada
L'histoire de ma femme - France
Die Geschichte meiner Frau - Deutschland
La storia di mia moglie - Italia
La historia de mi mujer - España
  • The Reminiscences of Captain Storr
  • Hungarian title: A feleségem története
  • Translated by Ivan Sanders
  • With a Preface by George Konrad

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Our Assessment:

B+ : strong voice and character, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 11/2/1989 Justin Wintle
NZZ . 12/1/2008 Andreas Breitenstein
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/3/1988 Amy Edith Johnson
Sunday Times . 12/2/1989 Peter Kemp
TLS . 10/3/1989 Peter Sherwood

  From the Reviews:
  • "This novel is an enigmatic, bitter and brilliant work (.....) What makes The Story of My Wife utterly absorbing is Füst's ability to impart, through the central motif, the whole of his sea captain's biography (.....) Without any of the burdensome philosophical trappings of, say, Milan Kundera, Füst conveys magnificently the burdens of an unhappy life." - Justin Wintle, The Independent

  • "Es ist dieser Autismus, der ihn zum Repräsentanten der Epoche erhebt. Das frei schwebende, vom Du entfremdete Ich wird nicht nur zum Spielball diktatorischer Mächte, es entgleitet ihm auch die Möglichkeit des Glücks. Milán Füst hat ein Buch verfasst, dessen Ironie diejenige existenzialistischer Säure nur scheinbar entschärft. Störrisch, stolz und selbstzerstörerisch ist Kapitän Störr. Er durchschaut sich, ohne sich ändern zu können. Die Hölle sind nicht nur die anderen, die Hölle ist man auch selbst." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Despite having waited more than 30 years for its American audience, The Story of My Wife has appeared, in some respects, not a minute too soon. Literary fashion has just caught up with it. (...) The novel inexhaustibly details jealousy but never documents love. It's about thwarted possession of a desirable other: small, fine, feminine. (...) Despite the colloquial tone of the narrative, excellently rendered by Ivan Sanders, Fust was a poet and literary scholar who offers us a protagonist as tentative as those of Kafka and as divisible as Dostoyevsky's. (...) The Story of My Wife is an important novel, but its greatness is miasmal. To close it is a relief." - Amy Edith Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(M)ore damaging is the vagueness misting everything in the story which results in Lizzie's unexplained activities seem usual and not in any way suspicious. (...) Not the least odd aspect of this idiosyncratic study of a tortured, tortuous mentality is the cosy banality of its conclusion." - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "(T)he problems facing Füst's translator are awesome. (...) But irrespective of the basic Americanness of this translation, there is a strong quasi-British English element, resulting in unsettling inconsistencies of tone and register (...); some sentences have so many diverse sources that they are barely comprehensible (......) More worrying (...) is the randomness of equivalents for key repetitions, and the ad hoc merger of paragraphs, which both impede the search for rhythmic equivalence and threaten the balance of the work as a whole." - Peter Sherwood, Times Literary Supplement

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 Story of My Wife is narrated by sometime (and then retired) sea-captain Jacob Störr, and while much of his account focuses on his wife Lizzie, this is, above all else, a very personal narrative. Störr is no expert at calm introspection, but Lizzie remains a mystery to him, and his struggles with that are a driving feature to his tortured narrative.
       For a man of action, and of the world, used to plying the high seas, he does have a surprisingly soft, passive side, letting his doubts gnaw at him -- and often dealing with them only by writing (at times in what amounts to a diary, like a schoolboy -- though at one point he actively corresponds with himself, writing fictitious letters to make more of an impression). So, for example, he recalls:

     I still remember how furious I was, how humiliated I felt -- I kept making entries in my notebook all night long.
       The well-travelled Dutch captain was taken by the: "French girl, very much a flirt and very ticklish" and took her as his wife. Away from their home a lot at first, he couldn't get her flirtatious nature out of his mind, and became consumed and obsessed by the thought that she must be cheating on him. How central this is to the novel is clear from the opening sentence, as he puts his overriding worry and concern at the very forefront of his account:
     My wife's been unfaithful, this much I have long suspected.
       The coy mistress has a more realistic outlook, Lizzie even at one point telling her husband:
     Look here, my dear Jacques, I can't tell you everything, you know that. I couldn't even if I wanted to ... You don't either.
       Indeed, while his passion for Lizzie is often near-blinding -- if sometimes of the white-rage jealous fury kind, too -- Störr isn't unrealistic in his outlook, much of the time. Indeed, he admits he doesn't have much need for, or interest in, supposed frankness:
For where does all that frankness get us ? One never really know what to make of one another's version of the truth; each one of us sticks to his own story, and we proceed alongside of each other, towards a dead end.
       Pouring out his heart, Störr admits to a variety of missteps and misinterpretations -- while also continuing to harbor justified doubts. Lizzie's actions and behavior certainly invite them -- yet there's rarely much certainty for Störr (who nevertheless has no problem going off half-cocked, as he repeatedly does).
       In fact, Lizzie is not the only woman in Störr's life, and whatever doubts there might be about her sometimes questionable behavior, there are none about his. The hulking, gregarious figure often takes almost unthinking action -- among the exciting incidental stories is of him captaining a ship on which a fire breaks out, his behavior here arguably reckless, too, and yet ultimately successful -- -- and at other times ties himself into knots trying to do the right thing. Women certainly befuddle him; he expresses his feelings for another woman's sister revealingly:
And do you know how I love her ? Like one loves a daughter, yet not quite the same way. Miserably, in other words, perversely; with the knowledge that this is corruption itself, like everything else I was destined to go through in life. What should he do who is too old for his emotions -- tear out his heart ?
       Störr is too jealous to be happy with Lizzie -- even if she would let him. But then, as he wonders:
But why be happy, anyway ? For all we know, happiness could be our stubbornest obsession.
       Whatever he hoped to find in, and with, Lizzie, he is incapable of realizing it. His account is, ultimately, one of regrets -- yet it's hard to imagine him acting differently if he could do it over; indeed, he fails elsewhere too (even as he eventually comes to enjoy great financial success):
     Oh, I loved her, of that there can be no doubt, loved her deeply, madly even ... Yet look where it's got me ...
       The Story of My Wife isn't a simple, chronological account of an ultimately failed relationship. Störr revisits both happy and difficult times with Lizzie, their life together complicated by their inability (or unwillingness) to establish a true home -- they are both flighty figures, and travel far and wide, together and separately; they don't have children. Their 'homelessness' is yet another prominent feature of their relationship.
       Störr imagines some of Lizzie's adventures, but can rarely piece them together; she toys with him, too, making it more complicated (and frustrating) for him. But The Story of My Wife is mainly the stories of Störr's life and adventures -- an odd, fascinating mix, much of which is nicely casually related. Several of the incidents are shocking -- including one youthful more-than-indiscretion, as well an actual (more or less justified) homicide -- but Störr's awareness and acknowledgement of his own weaknesses, and of his inability to transcend them, make him a fascinating -- and fascinatingly problematic -- character.
       There's a sometimes odd tone to the book -- likely, one imagines, as some of the reviews suggest, due to the translation -- and it's an oddly turned book too, but it is consistently compelling and does impress.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 August 2016

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The Story of My Wife: Reviews: Füst Milán: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Füst Milán lived 1888 to 1967.

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© 2016 the complete review

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