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ON MY BOOKSHELF / FLEUR JAEGGY

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Sometimes in your life you come across a writer who speaks volumes to you, who is like a kindred spirit, who makes you feel better knowing there is someone else who thinks and feels as you do, and who can put everything into words that you cannot. They become like best of friends for you and you reach for their words when you need inspiration and strength. In my late teens and early twenties, I discovered Anais Nin. And now, at thirty, there is Fleur Jaeggy.

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Although of Swiss nationality, she has lived in Italy for decades and writes in Italian. She's been described as reclusive and a "monumental loner" and her writing is sparse, austere, moody. Intelligent. Haunting and terse and absolutely stunning. I feel such pleasurable solitude while reading her. Her publishing home in the United States is New Directions and that is how I first came across her books. I find her work and life completely fascinating. She rarely does interviews or anything of that sort so it's a bit difficult to know anything extensive about her life but I will read anything about her I can find. I think if you are of a certain temperament, you will find her as brilliant as I do.

I Am the Brother of XX // "Fleur Jaeggy is often noted for her terse and telegraphic style, which somehow brews up a profound paradox that seems bent on haunting the reader: despite a sort of zero-at-the-bone baseline, her fiction is weirdly also incredibly moving. How does she do it? No one knows. But here, in her newest collection, I Am the Brother of XX, she does it again. Like a magician or a master criminal, who can say how she gets away with it, but whether the stories involve famous writers (Calvino, Ingeborg Bachmann, Joseph Brodsky) or baronesses or 13th-century visionaries or tormented siblings bred up in elite Swiss boarding schools, they somehow steal your heart. And they don’t rest at that, but endlessly disturb your mind."

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Sweet Days of Discipline // "Set in postwar Switzerland, Fleur Jaeggy’s eerily beautiful novel begins simply and innocently enough: "At fourteen I was a boarder in a school in the Appenzell." But there is nothing truly simple or innocent here. With the off-handed knowingness of a remorseless young Eve, the narrator describes life as a captive of the school and her designs to win the affections of the apparently perfect new girl, Fréderique. As she broods over her schemes as well as on the nature of control and madness, the novel gathers a suspended, unsettling energy. Now translated into six languages, I beati anni del castigo in its Italian original won the 1990 Premio Bagutta and the 1990 Premio Speciale Rapallo. In Tim Parks’ consummate translation (with its "spare, haunting quality of a prose poem"), Sweet Days of Discipline was selected as one of the London Times Literary Supplement’s Notable Books of 1992: "In a period when novels are generally overblown and scarcely portable, it is good to be able to recommend [one that is] miraculously short and beautifully written."

These Possible Lives: Essays // "New Directions is proud to present Fleur Jaeggy’s strange and mesmerizing essays about the writers Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob. A renowned stylist of hyper-brevity in fiction, Fleur Jaeggy proves herself an even more concise master of the essay form, albeit in a most peculiar and lapidary poetic vein. Of De Quincey’s early nineteenth-century world we hear of the habits of writers: Charles Lamb “spoke of ‘Lilliputian rabbits’ when eating frog fricassse”; Henry Fuseli “ate a diet of raw meat in order to obtain splendid dreams”; “Hazlitt was perceptive about musculature and boxers”; and “Wordsworth used a buttery knife to cut the pages of a first-edition Burke.” In a book of “blue devils” and night visions, the Keats essay opens: “In 1803, the guillotine was a common child’s toy.” And poor Schwob’s end comes as he feels “like a ‘dog cut open alive’”: “His face colored slightly, turning into a mask of gold. His eyes stayed open imperiously. No one could shut his eyelids. The room smoked of grief.” Fleur Jaeggy’s essays―or are they prose poems?―smoke of necessity: the pages are on fire."

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