There aren’t many books that make me want to savour every line, but this short book about a simple life in the Austrian Alps is one of them.
At only 150 pages long, A Whole Life explores Andreas Egger’s life in his mountain home, describing the moments, from the everyday to the more dramatic, that make up a life, expressed through wonderful observations such as these:
“Then he would think about his future, which extended infinitely before him precisely because he expected nothing of it. And sometimes if he lay there long enough, he had the impression that beneath his back the earth was softly rising and falling, and in moments like these he knew that the mountains breathed.”
A Whole Life, as the title suggests, takes us though the key episodes in Andreas’ life – his childhood memories, his working life, the finding of his one real love, through to his last days, all underpinned by his unique relationship with the landscape.
Andreas draws great pleasure from solitude, and from observing what’s around him. Though Andreas, we see the beauty in the everyday, of an ordinary life lived at its own rhythm. He is a gruff man, of few words, someone who takes action rather than talk about things – for me one of the most powerful moments comes when he falls in love with Marie. He doesn’t formally propose, he instead asks some of his friends to light her name across the mountain.
For me, the power of the novel lies in its simplicity – the scenes are concise, pared down, the prose spare, fitting with Andrea’s character, only enhancing the descriptions of the mountains and the land.
I love these lines:
“Up here the ground was soft and the grass short and dark. Drops of water trembled on the tips of the blades, making the whole meadow glitter as if studded with glass beads.”
Though the novel is short, you get such a sense of Andreas as a man – someone solid, and strong, a survivor. You feel deeply for him as various tragedies unfold – his painful childhood, his doomed love and marriage, and then his work with the cable car company, but he never comes across as a victim, which made me root for him all the more.
I read it while on holiday in the Alps and it made me see the landscape in a whole new way – one not to be simply visited, but to be lived in, to be a part of. I couldn’t put it down.
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (translated by Charlotte Collins)