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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

On the Edge

Markus Werner

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To purchase On the Edge

Title: On the Edge
Author: Markus Werner
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: German
Availability: On the Edge - US
On the Edge - UK
On the Edge - Canada
On the Edge - India
Langues de feu - France
Am Hang - Deutschland
Quando la vita chiama - Italia
En la pendiente - España
  • German title: Am Hang
  • Translated by Robert E. Goodwin
  • Am Hang was made into a film in 2013, directed by Markus Imboden and starring Henry Hübchen, Martina Gedeck, and Maximilian Simonischek

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Our Assessment:

B : balances decently on its edge, but doesn't completely pull it off

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 14/8/2004 Pia Reinacher
NZZ . 25/7/2004 Gunhild Kübler
Die Zeit . 16/9/2004 Andreas Isenschmid

  From the Reviews:
  • "Am Hang nimmt den Leser von der ersten Zeile an gefangen. Die Verdichtung und Leichtigkeit, das Unergründliche und gleichzeitig Glasklare des Wernerschen Erzählstils übt eine magische Anziehung aus. Angetrieben von Neugier, die immer wieder neue, andere Nahrung erhält, und verführt von den beängstigenden Verirrungen und fatalen Leidenschaften der beiden Figuren, liebt und leidet man mit ihnen bis zur letzten Seite." - Pia Reinacher, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Die Frau, um die es geht, bleibt in diesem Roman eine klug kalkulierte Leerstelle. Diese Lücke macht beim Lesen kreativ, man füllt sie mit eigenen Vermutungen. Dabei entsteht im Kopf die Parallelgeschichte einer weiblichen Liebesernüchterung. Und die ist so spannend, dass man, kaum ist die Schlusspointe des Romans verdaut, wieder vorn einbiegt, um in einem zweiten Durchgang unter geändertem Vorzeichen die Plausibilität des Ganzen zu überprüfen." - Gunhild Kübler, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Um in den Vollgenuss dieser ex post zündenden Pointe zu kommen, muss man das Buch ein zweites Mal lesen. Da wird man dann feststellen, dass Werner technisch durchaus sorgfältig da und dort cleveren Doppelsinn eingebaut hat. Hin und wieder verschafft einem das tatsächlich Ironiegewinne. Und für Loos ist’s einem nun noch etwas schwerer ums Herz. Aber die Abgründigkeit, der kalte Rückenschauder über dem dünnen Eis der Täuschung, auf den Werner gehofft haben mag, stellt sich nicht ein. Eher fühlt man sich in einer Scharade. Und es bleibt auch doppelsinniges Schwadronieren eben Schwadronieren." - Andreas Isenschmid, 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:

[Note: this review is based on the German original and not Robert E. Goodwin's translation, which I have not seen.]

       On the Edge is narrated by Thomas Clarin, a lawyer in his mid-thirties spending a long Whitsun-weekend in the vacation house in the Tessin that he's a part-owner of. A determinedly confirmed bachelor, Clarin plans to finish his work on a paper on the history of Swiss divorce law, but the opening pages already reveal he was unsuccessful, sidetracked and now, after the fact, still entirely preöccupied with a man he met over the weekend: "Everything is spinning. And everything is turning around him", the novel opens. After this initial tease -- he doesn't let on why the experiences of the weekend so affected him -- Clarin's account circles back to the beginnings, and relates what happened, chronologically.
       After arriving and settling in for the weekend, Clarin had headed into nearby Montagnola for dinner. He found all the tables at favoured Hotel Bellevue/Bellavista occupied, but seeing one diner alone at a table for four asked to join him. The man is Loos, and while he initially barely acknowledges Clarin, the sociable Clarin eventually manages to engage him in conversation -- and the two go on to converse (and drink) deep into not just one but two nights.
       If Clarin is a confirmed bachelor whose philosophy is to dump them as soon as any woman threatens to become clingy and might possibly imagine something of a future, Loos seems almost the opposite. Wearing not one but two wedding rings on his ring finger, Clarin assumes he must be a widower, and Loos eventually tells his sad story, about the wife he loved deeply, Bettina, who survived a brain tumor but then died here exactly a year ago. It takes a while for the whole story to come out -- Clarin suspecting, along the way, both suicide and murder as possible explanations for the wife's death -- but Loos shares it eventually.
       Clarin has his own history here from the year before, a fling with a married woman, Valerie, who stayed at the same place, and he relates that episode to Loos. The two women might even have crossed paths, he imagines .....
       The two men reflect on women and relationships -- their own, and others'. Clarin doesn't feel much guilt about sleeping with married women, while Loos claims he never considered having an affair, his wife; "gave him and was his everything", so he had no reason to look elsewhere. But he is curious about the kind of woman this Valerie was .....
       The novel focuses on Clarin and Loos' interaction -- mainly their conversation, though since the account is presented from Clarin's perspective, his observations and commentary accompany, and color, the account of the discussions. With the break-up of marriages his professional area of expertise, Clarin tends to hold what might be considered a cynical view; he can barely imagine a lasting, close bond -- and, in his private life, does pretty much anything he can do to avoid it. Loos seems to open his eyes a bit to another perspective -- hopelessly romantic, arguably. Even in considering the story of another man that Clarin brings up as an example, Loos interprets the evidence differently -- and likely correctly, Clarin has to admit to himself. And ultimately Clarin is forced to confront the costs of how he acts -- having no problem flirting with someone Valerie introduces as her friend pretty much before Valerie's back is even turned, for example ... -- especially on the others who are affected by his actions.
       Where this is going isn't exactly a big surprise, and the novel works -- or doesn't -- off the sustained but subtle tension between the two men. Their different attitudes towards relationships, and their very different personal experiences -- with the older Loos clearly still hurting from a deep loss -- are laid out in civilized discussion; they drink a fair amount, but stay controlled and even largely unemotional. Yet even as it is nearly all talk, it isn't entirely. Werner handles that -- bubbling underneath -- quite well, but it's not entirely convincing. As with the coïncidence bringing the two men together in the first place, it all doesn't feel entirely plausible -- just a bit too artificial and forced.
       Still, Werner's dialogue, and Clarin's limited introspection (particularly dense as to the loss Loos is masking), make for a reasonably gripping read -- even if the cold Clarin's rather extreme personal philosophy and behavior is quite off-putting.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 February 2018

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On the Edge: Reviews: Am Hang - the film: Other books by Markus Werner under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Markus Werner lived 1944 to 2016.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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