Like the title suggests, A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (translated from the German by Charlotte Collins) is literally about a man’s whole life, in only 139 pages. Apparently this book is also an international bestseller, so I had high hopes when I cracked it open. Unfortunately, it was a bit disappointing. I can’t say why exactly, other than the fact I found it a bit boring.
The prose is wonderful, very stark and to the point, but still including lovely descriptions of the beautiful mountain town that the protagonist Andreas resides. The setting was probably my favourite part of the book; the Austrian Alps is its own character in the story, fulfilling lives, and taking them away all at the same time. Andreas is hard to relate to however, which may have caused my overall disconnect with the narrative. He’s very quiet, and leads a fairly mundane, hardworking existence. He lives in the same town his whole life, only venturing out twice; the first time to participate in WWII, the second time on a spur-of-the-moment bus trip that leaves him disoriented and regretting his adventurous decision. As I write this it occurs to me that Andreas himself is the reason I didn’t enjoy this book-I never really felt as though I understood him. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, so you would think that there would be lots of opportunity for Andreas to ‘muse’ on things, thus creating that connection between reader and character. But that never really happened for me, which leaves me with not much to say now that I’ve finished reading it.
Perhaps an older generation would appreciate this book more than me, I can see the general appeal in reading about someone’s life as a whole in a simple format such as this. But I’m just too busy these days: too busy to care about anything unless it strikes a particular chord within my own psyche. I feel a bit selfish admitting that, but it’s true.