The Setting Is Switzerland

gildedchaletPadraig Rooney: The Gilded Chalet

This was one of my Christmas presents to myself – a reference book of writers who have made Switzerland their home or source of writing inspiration. A combination of biography and personal travel memoir (on the tracks of these writers), it is effortlessly erudite and charming, while also pointing out many shortcomings of Swiss society. There is something for every kind of literature lover in this book. From Rousseau and Voltaire, to Shelley and Byron, from Conan Doyle and Thomas Mann, to cross-dressing Muslim convert Isabelle Eberhardt, James Joyce and Herman Hesse, the Fitzgeralds and even the chalet school stories of Elinor Brent-Dyer. The spy novels of Graham Greene,  Ian Fleming, Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Le Carré, and the founder of Swiss thriller Friedrich Glauser.

Patricia Highsmith in front of her house in Ticino, from slashseconds.org
Patricia Highsmith in front of her house in Ticino, from slashseconds.org

Nabokov in a hotel in Montreux and Patricia Highsmith living in the most uncomfortable, poky, dark house in the world in Ticino. The self-conscious and self-critical Swiss writers such as Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch, Peter Stamm.

Switzerland took writers in, sometimes grudgingly, often with good grace. It gave them a room with a view and a place at the table – maybe not the Stammtisch, but you can’t have everything. Service was brisk and efficient, the wine not too bad, the food rough and ready but nourishing… And the writers responded by doing what they do best… They bit the hand that fed them. They pointed out the dry rot. Suggested there’s a smell under the floorboards. Often enough writers just got on with it – up some secluded valley… What would the world be if there were no chalet, no refuge, no little lifeboat?

OkriBen Okri: The Age of Magic

A strange, hypnotic journey searching for Arcadia in a Swiss mountain village. A film crew stop in a formerly trendy resort on a lake in Switzerland on their way to the real Arcadia in Greece – and each crew member has a profound transformative experience. It’s more of a meditation on life and art, on personal fears and quests, rather than an actual novel. Some beautiful phrases and thoughts worth pondering on, worth rereading. The Bad Sex award seems a bit harsh, especially as there is only one half-explicit sex scene in the whole book. A book which will appeal more to poets rather than readers, difficult to describe, with no real narrative arc as such. Oddly satisfying in parts; not sure I understand it at all in others.

wallcreeperNell Zink: The Wallcreeper

What is it about Switzerland that drives bored expat wives to take up adultery as a hobby or as extreme cries for attention? This is the second one published in 2015 (after Hausfrau) to deal with the topic. Many readers complained in the case of Hausfrau that the main character was too passive and self-pitying (I thought it described depression pretty well). In this case, it is the voice of a young person, completely self-absorbed, with an utter lack of concern for consequences and a strange disconnect with other people’s feelings.

The story starts off in Berne and then moves on to Berlin and other parts of Europe. The narrator’s husband becomes involved in the ecological movement, they are both birdwatchers and there are some forced analogies and heavy symbolism throughout the book about the harm humans do to wildlife, to the planet, to each other, but it feels largely aimless. An opportunity for the writer to display her wit and erudition, it feels like it’s trying a little too hard: everything I hate about American MFA writing. However, I have to admit: in spite of this overall coldness and lack of empathy which I felt that most of the characters displayed, it was witty, funny, readable in the way you enjoy hearing an acerbic tongue being exercised on other people, although you wouldn’t necessarily want it in your own life.

 

Friday Fun: Winter Is Coming – Cosy Chalet Time!

Nothing beats a cosy chalet at the foot of the ski pistes, with an open fireplace, good food, old friends and excellent books to surround you! The snow is not quite enough for skiing yet, the chalet remains to be booked (or paid for) but I do feel I have friends and books, so thank you all so much.

A photo shoot by photographer Andrew Borthwick of Chalet Solaise in Villars, Switzerland. Suisse Art of Bespoke website.
A photo shoot by photographer Andrew Borthwick of Chalet Solaise in Villars, Switzerland. Suisse Art of Bespoke website.
It's always about the views! From chaletstyle.com
It’s always about the views! From chaletstyle.com
For lovers of traditional, wood-heavy decor. From digsdigschalet.com
For lovers of traditional, wood-heavy decor. From digsdigschalet.com
A more modern take on wooden interiors. From Decoist.com
A more modern take on wooden interiors. From Decoist.com
Chalet in Courchevel. Can be yours for a week for an exorbitant price, from ultimateluxurychalets.com
Chalet in Courchevel. Can be yours for a week for an exorbitant price, from ultimateluxurychalets.com
Or you could rent this one facing Mont Blanc, from homedit.com
Or you could rent this one facing Mont Blanc, from homedit.com
I am captivated by the central stove in this one, also for rent. From ultimateluxurychalets.com
I am captivated by the central stove in this one, also for rent. From ultimateluxurychalets.com
Or what about this chalet in Aspen? Featured in Architectural Digest.
Or what about this chalet in Aspen? Featured in Architectural Digest.

 

 

‘Tis the Season to be Cosy

A smoggy, sunless day today.

So indulge me… Allow me to curl up in a well-travelled vintage room, with lots of books, armchairs, plaid blankets and plenty of cushions. An open fire and a mulled wine would be optional, but deliciously thoughtful.

www.domainehome.com
http://www.domainehome.com
www.freshome.com
http://www.freshome.com
www.freshome.com
http://www.freshome.com

A cosy bedroom would not come amiss, even if it were designed with teenagers in mind…

www.decoist.com
http://www.decoist.com

But, for the ultimate retreat, while there is still snow in the mountains, I would like to hide up in this Swiss eco-pod hut in Flims and do nothing but read and write.

www.inhabitat.com
http://www.inhabitat.com