To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm
To the Back of Beyond, the sixth book by Swiss author Peter Stamm, has a simple yet mysterious plot, said Neel Mukherjee in the New Statesman. The day after Astrid and Thomas – a seemingly contented couple with two children – return from a summer holiday, Thomas “walks out onto the street and keeps walking”, never to return. In the pages that follow, we see Thomas “walking into the mountains and valleys of Switzerland” and sleeping outdoors. We don’t learn the “motives” behind his actions. Though Stamm’s fiction is deeply unconventional – he has little interest, for example, in “psychological interiority” or the “texture of lives” – the effect is “destabilising” and “can be dizzying”.
At first glance, Stamm’s prose can seem “incredibly dull”, said Philip Maughan in the Literary Review. The “sentences crawl evenly along”; “a murder is described in the same deadpan manner as a whistling kettle”. Yet those who persevere will find rich rewards: this is a “moving” and strangely “optimistic” book that, in spite of its subject, even “manages to see the good in long-term relationships”.