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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


All Days are Night

Peter Stamm

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To purchase All Days are Night

Title: All Days are Night
Author: Peter Stamm
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: German
Availability: All Days are Night - US
All Days are Night - UK
All Days are Night - Canada
All Days are Night - India
Tous les jours sont des nuits - France
Nacht ist der Tag - Deutschland
  • German title: Nacht ist der Tag
  • Translated by Michael Hofmann

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Our Assessment:

B : questions of identity and art, in an impressively cool, controlled voice

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 21/2/2015 .
Financial Times . 13/3/2015 Peter Carty
FAZ . 20/7/2013 F. von Lovenberg
Independent on Sunday . 8/3/2015 Jonathan Gibbs
Literary Review A- 3/2015 Joanna Kavenna
NZZ . 23/7/2013 Roman Bucheli
The NY Times Book Rev. . 9/11/2014 Lauren Elkin
TLS . 17/12/2014 Alexander Starritt
Wall St. Journal . 14/11/2014 Moira Hodgson
Die Zeit . 2/10/2013 Adam Soboczynski

  From the Reviews:
  • "His prose, in a crystalline translation by Michael Hofmann, is as sharply illuminating as a surgical light. He is acutely alert to injuryís alienating effects. (...) A profound and mysterious book" - The Economist

  • "If Stammís characters are distanced from themselves then Stamm, in turn, keeps his distance from them. His involvement is more forensic than empathetic and his style is understated. This is surprisingly effective, throwing the charactersí interior worlds into stark relief. (...) Perhaps there is something rather old-fashioned about Stammís preoccupations in All Days Are Night, whose philosophical underpinnings recall those of mid-20th-century existentialist novels." - Peter Carty, Financial Times

  • "Dass einem die Figuren auch in diesem Roman nah kommen, ohne sonderlich sympathisch zu sein, hat mit jenen Fragen zu tun, die sich jeder irgendwann einmal stellt und die den eigentlichen Antrieb von Stamms Literatur bilden. Diesmal ist es die, wie viel Neuanfang überhaupt möglich ist." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This, more or less, is the first half of this short, brilliant novel. It would be unfair to give any indication of what follows, except that it is unexpected, and infuriating, and chastening." - Jonathan Gibbs, Independent on Sunday

  • "Brilliantly translated by Michael Hofmann, the minimalist style is both a strength and a weakness of this book. (...) This is undeniably subtle and, at times, very moving. Yet at other moments the style becomes so understated, so pared down, that the novel almost stalls." - Joanna Kavenna, Literary Review

  • "Nicht das Pathos macht den Kitsch aus, aber der Glaube an die einfache Wahrheit. Und die einfache Wahrheit besteht hier und in Peter Stamms ganzem Roman darin, dass alles ausbuchstabiert und nichts im Ungefähren des nicht vollends Benennbaren gelassen wird, dass jedes Motiv pedantisch verdoppelt und verdreifacht wird, selbst wenn die Leser doch längst begriffen haben müssen, wo des Pudels Kern liegt. Ins Kitschige kippt der Roman vollends, weil die Komplexität seiner Handlung zuletzt in eine fröhliche Zuversicht mündet und die schön ausgedachte innere Mechanik im Leeren läuft." - Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Seeing, and how we see ourselves, becomes Stammís primary subject. The first half of the novel is a remarkable extended study of a woman and her body, its pains, its changes, its "points of reference." (...) Stammís careful, pared-down narrative, translated from German with great suppleness by Michael Hofmann, stops to notice all mirrors, all reflective surfaces or cameras, anything and anyone involved in visually reproducing the world." - Lauren Elkin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There is indeed something here to observe about art, but that something is Stammís own art, his prose style. Stamm does not make us feel the anguish and grief of the bereaved and disfigured woman. His voice is cool, distanced, undisturbed by what it is relating. (...) Stamm transmutes turmoil into form. What we get is not the interior drama of pain, but its pattern: Hubertís and Gillianís lives are narrative lines that intersect, diverge, intersect and diverge, with each encounter further developing the question of individual identity." - Alexander Starritt, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Peter Stammís sixth novel asks, who are you and how do you imagine yourself ? In spare, minimalist prose, he tells a complex psychological tale about two people who deal explicitly with these questions." - Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal

  • "Peter Stamm ist ohne Zweifel ein Meister darin, ohne auch nur den Anflug von Pathos die Prosa der Verhältnisse (Hegel) einzufangen, das allzu Gewöhnliche, Alltägliche und Mittelmäßige. Nicht wenige dürften sich darin wiederfinden. Das Leben ist in Stamms Romanen ein Gefängnis, das den Protagonisten wenig Freigänge lässt, dafür aber ist es so anständig und, allen Schicksalsschlägen zum Trotz, aufgeräumt eingerichtet, dass sich zu klagen auch wieder nicht lohnt." - Adam Soboczynski, 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:

       The title, All Days are Night -- taken from Shakespeare (Sonnet 43) -- already casts the appropriate pall over Peter Stamm's novel -- though in fact Shakespeare's line is considerably cheerier ("All days are nights to see till I see thee"). The novel begins hazily, too: TV host Gillian slowly regaining consciousness in hospital, after being in a car accident which killed her husband, Matthias.
       Gillian wasn't cut out to be an actress, but she was very attractive, and so: "she started playing the beautiful and successful cultural correspondent" on TV. Even at home she was happy to be on display, unbothered anyone standing outside could see into her living room. The accident puts an end to all that: her face bore the brunt of it, obliterating her nose. It will take several operations and considerable time to outfit her with a new one.
       Defined by her looks, Gillian is left wondering:

     What's left of me ? And is what's left more than a wound ? Can it ever heal ? Will that be "me" ?
       Asked what she remembers she seems to remember it all, except for the void that was her self:
     Everything is still there, she said, only I am gone
       Her vacuous essence seems only to have been appearance.
       Compounding the situation, Stamm has Gillian and her husband fighting (and drinking too much) leading up to the car accident. Matthias had discovered some pictures of Gillian -- compromising, arguably, or revealing: Gillian had let herself be photographed and painted by Hubert, an artist who had appeared on her television show. An attempt, perhaps to get at her essence, at the essential -- an exercise that indirectly leads to this fatal outcome.
       All Days are Night is a three-part novel. The first begins with damaged Gillian's slow recovery. The second jumps some six years ahead and initially focuses on Hubert, his own relationship with Astrid, the mother of his son, collapsing. Hubert has found it easier teaching art rather than continuing with his own work; nevertheless, he accepts an opportunity to exhibit at a cultural center at a mountain resort, where he had: "his first and only large solo exhibition seven years before".
       Hubert encounters Jill there, the person Gillian has transformed herself into, the 'head of entertainment' at the local resort hotel. Hubert struggles for inspiration as the date for the exhibit approaches; unsurprisingly, little goes quite according to plan.
       Both Gillian and Hubert move between seeking and drifting. Hubert used to take hundreds of pictures of women in the hopes of stumbling onto just the right one, but he easily drifted away from his art -- just as he does from Astrid, who also looks for answers elsewhere. Teaching at the art college suits him, but he just as easily drifts into the next opportunity that comes along.
       Stamm's characters are fairly isolated, and they frequently cut themselves off from others. Gillian/Jill entirely flees her earlier life, while Hubert also cuts most of the immediate contacts in his life, becoming hard to reach once he's up in the mountains. No one here finds it easy to really commit to anyone, or anything.
       Stamm doesn't follow the obvious story-arcs, given his premise. Stamm's books are rarely about finding answers or conveniently happy endings, and this is no exception. The novel is steeped in questions of art and identity, but Stamm doesn't hammer home any particular philosophy, generally leaving things open-ended.
       Gillian is a difficult character to load so much of a novel on -- specifically, defining her (as she also does herself) essentially entirely by surface-appearance, at least initially. So, too, much of the novel remains surface, Stamm skimming carefully along in presenting these lives. The command of tone and language makes up for some of that: so much of All Days are Night impresses in its easy, haunting descriptions (so also in Michael Hofmann's translation), but it nevertheless still leaves the characters bare but not truly bared. Which is, as always with Stamm, part of his point .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 March 2015

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All Days are Night: Reviews: Peter Stamm: Other books by Peter Stamm under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Peter Stamm was born in 1963.

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