“Maybe This Time” by Alois Hotschnig

I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for something a little weird and disturbing and different.

Cover of "Maybe this Time" by Alois Hotschnig

I found Maybe This Time a very unsettling collection of short stories. I mean that in a good way. Being unsettled is often the prelude to thinking about things in a new way, and to me that’s one of the most important functions of literature.

The stories are very varied in style and content, but many of them deal with the question of identity in one way or another. In the first story, The Same Silence, The Same Noise, a man becomes addicted to spying on his neighbours. Yet he does not really seem interested in the neighbours themselves, but in seeing himself through their eyes. He is obsessed with why they don’t acknowledge him, and although it is he who is spying on them, he is the one who feels invaded by them, who tries to escape. His identity merges into theirs, and he realises that “in truth, it was myself I was now looking at.”

The final story, You Don’t Know Them, They’re Strangers, also deals with the merging of identities. A man comes home one night to a flat that has someone else’s name on the door but that seems familiar still, and his neighbours and friends call him by that name, even though it’s not his name and he doesn’t know the people who call him a friend. He goes to work in a part of town he’s never been to, again is recognised by his colleagues even though he doesn’t know them, and does a normal day’s work before returning home to find a different name on the door. The same neighbours who had known him the night before now introduce themselves as if for the first time.

See what I mean by unsettling? There’s a dreamlike quality to a lot of the stories, a weird kind of internal consistency that often doesn’t conform to real-world logic but nevertheless feels natural within the slightly warped reality of each story. And through many of the stories runs this same thread of loss of identity. In another one, The Beginning of Something, a man washes his face and raises his arms to wipe it with a towel, but then realises “The arms weren’t my arms.” In perhaps the most unsettling one of all, Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut, a man is invited into an old woman’s house, and although he doesn’t know her, she treats him as a long-overdue guest. She has an enormous collection of dolls, which she calls “her children”, and eventually she brings out one that looks exactly like the narrator and shares his name, Karl. She asks him, “Isn’t that why you’re here?” As he visits more regularly, he comes to identify more and more with the doll Karl, until:

Whether I liked it or not, I too had become one of the old woman’s dolls, or perhaps I had always been one. She sat me on her lap, and I let it happen, because in exchange she gave me something I wanted and each time craved more deeply – myself.

Apart from Karl, very few of the characters in the book are named. Many stories have a first-person narrator, and otherwise characters are referred to simply as “the woman”, “the man”, “the couple”, etc. It all has a profoundly alienating effect, especially when coupled with the weird meldings of identity. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for something a little weird and disturbing and different. I’m planning to read more by the same writer, but can’t find much in English translation so maybe will have to dust off my schoolboy German.

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There are 16 comments

  1. This makes me think of the hard-to-define genre of slipstream, a branch of magic realism, I suppose, in which the elements of reality melt and slide at some points, rather like Dali’s watches. I think it’s a fascinating genre, hard to write, and hard to write about. This sounds like a very interesting collection.

    1. Difficult topics do not make me shy away in fact, I often go out of my way to read them. After more than three decedas as a social worker, I have seen many things others might find abhorrent. My first five novels are filled with fictionalized accounts of some of these things.Currently I’m writing about other topics and issues, but I still watch movies and read books that go to the dark side.Here’s and

  2. This sounds very fascinating.
    I agree that the best literature makes you see things in another way.
    The story about the woman who collects dolls sounds very uncanny.
    I haven’t read Hotschnig yet but think he is very well liked in Germany/Austria. Judging from the name, I guess he is Austrian.

  3. I’m still trying to work this book out. Part of me wants to label it horror, especially considering the doll story, but then I know that’s missing the point. It’s a very good book, however, that’s for certain.

  4. Wonderful review, Andrew! This book looks really wonderful! I loved all your descriptions of your favourite stories from the book! My favourite is ‘The Same Silence, The Same Noise’. It is so interesting and beautiful and raises so many questions. I will add this book to my ‘TBR’ list. Thanks for introducing a wonderful new author to us 🙂

  5. Thanks for the comments! litlove, I had never thought of this book as slipstream fiction, but your description is very apt. Made me think about it in a different way.

    Hi Caroline, yes he is Austrian. I wasn’t familiar with him at all before this, but I think in England we often tend to be out of tune with what’s popular in the rest of Europe. There was something really uncanny about the doll story, hard to put my finger on exactly what made it so creepy!

    Hi Charlie, thanks for visiting! I know what you mean with the horror label, even though it’s another one that hadn’t occurred to me before. It’s certainly creepy – maybe what’s so unsettling is that it reminded me of how fragile identity really is. Maybe that’s the real “horror”!

    Thanks Vishy! ‘The Same Silence, The Same Noise’ certainly is a good story, very memorable. Hope you enjoy it!

    Hi Nivedita, yes, I would recommend looking out for it. It’s quite new, just published in England this month. It’s good to hear other people wanting to read this too – glad I’m not the only one who likes to be unsettled! I’d be interested to hear also if anyone’s put off by my descriptions. I know a lot of people like to read for enjoyment and escape, and I’d imagine that creepy and unsettling stories wouldn’t appeal to everyone!

    1. I don’t mind difficult toipcs at all, as long as the book in which they’re discussed is well-written. What is a novel without conflict, anyway? Where better than life to find that conflict?As to my bedside table, work and a migraine that will not release have really diminished my ability to read much this week, but I’ve got Tuesdays with Morrie and The Paris Wife on my Kindle, and I’m switching back and forth between them.MissMeliss recently posted..

  6. Pingback: Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time – Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht (2006) « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat
  7. Great post, totally agree with dreamlike quality, I said in my post that the tales have an interior logic of their own, like dreamscapes they inhabit that hinterland just outside our line of sight & although they leave you bemused, they also leave you pondering & like literature should with questions

  8. Hi Parrish, that’s a good way of putting it, the hinterland! Like it. I’ll check out your post.

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