Title: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman
Author: Stefan Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: 4th February, 2016
“‘The less I felt in myself, the more strongly I was drawn to those places where the whirligig of life spins most rapidly.’
So begins an extraordinary day in the life of Mrs C – recently bereaved and searching for excitement and meaning. Drawn to the bright lights of a casino, and the passion of a desperate stranger, she discovers a purpose once again but at what cost?
In this vivid and moving tale of a compassionate woman, and her defining experience, Zweig explores the power of intense love, overwhelming loneliness and regret that can last for a lifetime.” (Pushkin Press)
I’m starting to get to the point with Stefan Zweig that any comments I make about his work should be preceded by a disclaimer that goes something along the lines of, “In my eyes, he can do no wrong.” So if you read any further, you should keep in my mind that I am blinded my love for him and his ability to write people – not just write about them, but actually write them.
For those familiar with Zweig’s work, there isn’t really anything new here and there are many of the usual markers of Zweig’s work: a framed narrative, a character reflecting on the past, regret, passion, obsession, and his usual observations on the nature of humanity.
“Most people have little imagination. If something doesn’t affect them directly, does not drive a sharp wedge straight into their minds, it hardly excites them at all, but if an incident, however slight, takes place before their eyes, close enough for the senses to perceive it, it instantly rouses them to extremes of passion. They compensate for the infrequency of their sympathy, as it were, by exhibiting disproportionate and excessive vehemence.”
But half the joy of reading Zweig is for the writing itself and the way he explores all his usual themes. So although the novella is typical Zweig, it’s still incredibly enjoyable to read the way he explores the usual things with different characters. There was one passage in which hands are front and centre, and I read it over and over again because it was so beautiful.
“I simply cannot tell you how many thousands of varieties of hands there are: wild beasts with hairy, crooked fingers raking in the money like spiders; nervous trembling hands with pale nails that scarcely dare to touch it; hands noble and vulgar, hands brutal and shy, cunning hands, hands that seem to be stammering …”
For those who haven’t read Zweig before, this would be a pretty good place to start to ease you into his world. At only 92 pages it’s a physically quick read, but it also moves quickly in terms of the plot – you could easily polish it off in one sitting. It’s probably not the best of his work that I’ve read (my current favourite is A Chess Story, until something comes along that I like better), but it’s still a wonderful example of his writing and certainly wouldn’t put you off reading more of his work.