Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands (2017; Trans. Jen Calleja 2020) was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2019. The jury describes it like this: “A quirky, unpredictable and darkly comic confrontation with mortality.” Her first book was published in Germany in 2002 and, since, her work has been consistently recognized and lauded there. The Pine Islands is the first of her books translated into English.
A reader’s success with this story resides in their comfort with travelling in Gilbert Silvester’s company. Gilbert is on the move and distraught because he has had a dream that his wife cheated on him; this spoiler-free passage illustrates some key aspects of his nature and his story:
He couldn’t recall later on whether he had shouted at her (probably), struck her (surely not), or spat at her (well, really, a little spittle may very well have sprayed from his mouth while he was talking animatedly at her), but he had at any rate gathered a few things together, taken his credit cards and his passport and left, walking along the pavement past the house, and when she didn’t come after him and didn’t call out his name, he carried on, somewhat slower at first and then faster, till he reached the next underground station, and disappeared down the steps, one might say in hindsight, as if sleepwalking. He travelled through the city and didn’t get out until he reached the airport.
Poschmann can write succinctly. The passage preceding this one is populated by a series of two-and-three-word-long sentences, as Gilbert confronts Mathilda (who denies everything).
So within a couple of pages, readers have a hint that it’s going to be the journey—more specifically, Gilbert’s recounting of the journey—that matters here.
Because, after all, one can break down a leaving into a series of minute observations, mechanics of a scene as Gilbert itemizes his packing process and movements.
Or, one can simply speak of travelling, of leaving.