Book and Movie: The Wall

Marlen Haushofer’s 1968 novel about a woman who suddenly finds herself to be the last human being on earth, trapped in an Austrian valley by an invisible wall, has been on my TBR for a while. Every now and then, I feel compelled to read a survival story like this one, and it came highly recommended. What a letdown, then, that I found it to be rather boring, mostly because I didn’t care for the main character.

The wall that suddenly shuts off the narrator from the rest of the world is presumably caused by a nuclear event, and it seems that everyone outside of the valley is dead. All the woman has to keep her company is a dog (Lynx), a cow (Bella), and a cat. The house she now lives in belonged to her cousin’s husband, who thankfully kept it well stocked. With hunting equipment, seed potatoes and beans, and enough matches to last several years, the woman’s immediate survival seems ensured. Very slowly, she begins to adjust to her new surroundings, discovering a way of life close to nature that has long been lost to many people. The suspense of the story comes from the constant uncertainty of what might happen—after all, a simple injury could prove potentially fatal here—and the knowledge that something will definitely happen to Lynx, her faithful and essential companion.

It is rather silly of me to criticize her decisions and roll my eyes at some of her thoughts. I have no idea how I would feel and act in her place. But I grew impatient with her disgust to hunt, since her survival depended on it, and I couldn’t believe she would waste her precious food to feed the deer during a particularly brutal cold spell in winter. I grew tired of her bouts with depression and her trouble sleeping, although I felt guilty about my lack of compassion. It also didn’t help that the story is told in flashbacks and I had trouble figuring out the timeline. I kept wondering how much time had passed, although in hindsight, I think that was done on purpose and I simply missed it. After all, in this situation, time as we measure it is not really important anymore. My confusion about some details simply prevented me from appreciating this aspect. The showdown that finally decides Lynx’ fate makes for an impactful ending, one that made the whole story more memorable for me.

In 2012, the book was made into a movie, starring Martina Gedeck as the narrator. While watching the movie did not improve my overall liking of the story, it is a movie worth watching. Parts of the story become more impressive because of the visuals; we see both the beauty and the terror of nature. In the narrator’s flashbacks, the winter forest looks beautiful, but in the present, it seems simply threatening. In the movie, the strangeness of the invisible wall is strangely satisfying, and the narrator’s first look at the outside world after it goes up is terrible and terrifying. I was much more moved watching these parts than I was reading about them. With its constant voiceover, watching the movie is very similar to listening to the audio version of the book, which I also gave a try.

Overall, I’d say if you are interested in the story, watch the movie. It is almost like reading the book, but it goes much faster.

 

 

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10 comments

  1. Oh no! A book where most of the suspense comes from the possibility something might happen to the dog sounds terrible to me. I hate when bad things happen to animals in books!

  2. I’ve had this on my list for a while, too. It sounds so good! Too bad it was disappointing, but at least you were able to warn the rest of us. 😉
    I had to laugh at your guilt for growing tired of her bouts of depression – that happens to me too! I wonder why it makes us feel guilty? Would we react the same if the character wasn’t fictional?

    • When I watched the movie, I got distracted because I couldn’t stop thinking about how they made the invisible wall. It was probably just a sheet of glass, but I’m sure there was someone standing off camera with a bottle of Windex. 🙂 The answer, by the way, is not revealed. It is implied that it was a nuclear disaster, but why would that spare that one valley in Austria?

  3. I haven’t heard of this one, but it’s too bad it didn’t resonate with you. I will hold off on it then. Per Jacqui’s comment, I too liked McCarthy’s novel The Road. It is quite frightening for sure!

  4. I am torn between my choices now, TJ. It’s been in my TBR for a while, but I haven’t read it yet because I am not able to afford the book. I am not sure if I want to invest in something that I might not enjoy. That’s always a challenge with consuming any artwork, isn’t it? There are animals, so I think I will go to the book someday. 🙂 Thank you for this beautiful post.

  5. I’m afraid I’d spend all my time worrying about the dog – I can’t cope with animals in books! It’s a pity it didn’t work for you, though – sometimes an interesting premise isn’t enough, and when a book has only one character then you really have to enjoy spending time with her. On Jacqui’s point, I loved The Road. In fact, I loved it more in retrospect than while actually reading, if that makes any sense – it’s settled into a permanent place in my mind and grown in stature as a result…

  6. Oh, that’s a pity. It’s so hard to get on board with this type of story if you don’t feel much of a connection with the central character. Have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I couldn’t help but be reminded of it as I was reading your review. It’s another tough read that taps into similar territory, but I’m wondering if the characterisation might be more compelling?

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