Meet the author: Peter Stamm and “Nacht ist der Tag”

If you follow my blog, you know I read Peter Stamm’s “Nacht ist der Tag”. It’s English version was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It did not win, but reaped quite a few other prizes. Recently, I attended an evening, where the author was interviewed about this and earlier works.

As the author would sign after the evening, most members of the public had “Nacht ist der Tag” with them. Some German-speaking fans actually had all his books with them. I was there to learn more about his latest novel, as I had not been that impressed by it.

The interview started with citations from several reviews of “Nacht ist der Tag” and Peter Stamm’s earlier publications. One on “Nacht ist der Tag”, or “All Days are Night“, was from The New York Times. Like Mr Stamm, I disagreed with most citations, including the NYT one.

Moreover, after hearing Mr Stamm talk about themes and what he tried to do in his most recent novel, a few things I wrote about it need qualification. Guess there’s nothing like an author talking about his or her novel and reading from it.

One of many interesting things Mr Stamm mentioned was, that the Shakespeare quotation did not come first. The book “found” this quotation. So my presumption that the quotation inspired the book was wrong. Mr Stamm’s novels, short stories, and other writings are often inspired by Shakespeare, or the Bible but this time the book came first, quotation later.

As I presumed after reading its impressive first part, Mr Stamm talked with quite a few people who had gone through a similar experience as Gillian. It makes this first part very convincing.

He’s also interested in people, human behaviour, psychology, and especially human relationships. I think the focus on human relationships is really clearest in part three, when Gillian and Hubert meet again. There are also all the many relationships, functioning or not, between Gillian, her husband, Hubert, his partner, Gillian and her parents.

Mr Stamm also writes short-stories. So my remark, that the book seems like three different stories which accidentally end up in one novel, is somewhat right. During this interview, themes reoccurring in Mr Stamm’s short stories, theatre and radio plays, as well as other novels and this one, were discussed.

What is always interesting in these meet-the-author events, are questions by the public about writing. There was one person who asked how Mr Stamm wrote. It turns out Mr Stamm writes prequels. If they don’t work, he puts them aside – sometimes for years. This happened with a prequel of the Gillian story, which was rewritten and reworked years later. He admitted this is time-consuming, but it works for him. So if this is your way of writing: don’t be put off and save your prequels!

In the middle of mr Stamm reading the scene where Gillian and Hubert meet for the first time, the idea “naked soul” popped into my mind. This is a story about Gillian stripping bare for Hubert, who takes pictures of naked people; Gillian being stripped of her beauty and unable to return to her previous job; Gillian who finds herself, redefines herself, rebuilds her life. The open end is intentional.

At one point during the discussion between author and public, my neighbour raised her hand. The lady behind her, a friend or colleague, poked her and whispered “Don’t dare ask another question! I want a glass of wine!” When asked how long he would stay, the author also mentioned he’d sign books as long as there was wine.

Apparently, the Swiss embassy which hosted this event, serves excellent Swiss wines. The only thing I can tell you is, that the red was certainly impressive and heady. After one glass, I decided I really needed to walk home through the night.

“Nacht ist der Tag” by Peter Stamm, pp 252, S. Fisher, Frankfurt am Main, 2013
“All Days are Night”, its English translation, was published by Random House. It can be bought through Amazon.

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