Dan Vyleta has acquired quite a reputation, which he has done much to foster by comparing his latest novel to Dostoevsky and Dickens. I was initially excited by the thought of a novel set in Vienna in 1948. I have never visited Vienna but I feel I know it well. Weaned on Graham Greene’s The Third Man, both film and book, and the excellent Night Falls on the City by Sarah Gainham, I anticipated that the canon of post world war fiction would be enhanced. Sadly I was disappointed as I found this a rambling novel.
The two main characters Robert Seidel and Anna Beer meet on a train returning to Vienna. Robert is a young man leaving his boarding school. His mother is a drug addict and his stepfather has been thrown out of a window, a crime of which his son Wolfgang stands accused. Anna left her husband eleven years ago after she discovered his affaire with a man. He has disappeared and the flat is occupied by a giant Czech who claims he was in prison camp with him. The link between the two is the Seidel maid with a hunchback, Eva, to whom Anton Beer was emotionally attached when she was at an orphanage .
The best scene is the trial of Wolfgang but, in his acknowledgment, Vyleta was ” indebted” to the New Yorker correspondent Kay Boyle of a similar Frankfurt trial. Aside from a rambling narration, I was disappointed that the depiction of Vienna – so evocative in Greene and Rainham – is lack lustre. The prolific number of characters are uniformly unsympathetic except for Robert. I found his writing style so stilted that I wondered if it was a translation. A historian by trade, Vyleta is best with contemporary detail of a country rediscovering its own identity, occupying a crucial geographic location as the frontiers of post war were redefined and the Cold War took its course.