The text opens with an introduction by Walser that begins: “The boy who wrote these essays passed away not long after he left school.” Then follows 20 essays on discrete topics all written in the voice of an adolescent boy, albeit one with an exceptional grasp of language. Despite the disguise and the constant reference to the teacher, it should not take today’s reader long to realise that this is merely Walser in disguise. What a disguise though! This is the kind of chicanery one would expect to see in fiction after the Second World War, but here Walser is deploying it at the start of the century.
With the Barnes & Noble credit burning a hole in my pocket, I finally dropped my gift cards on a few books, including this one, a couple weeks ago. I was inspired to read Walser after all that effusive praise from W.G. Sebald, although hearing J.M. Coetzee sing his praises sure helped, too.
Walser, Julian Murphy writes, “is entirely anomalous, but he is a beautiful anomaly and one who anticipated certain trends in avant-garde literature by half a century.” Yes, please.