Cover Image: To the Back of Beyond

To the Back of Beyond

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Member Reviews

Stamm is really a great writer, highly recommended. I was very confused during most part of the book, but I kept reading because I was so intrigued. I never could fully understand the reasons behind Thomas decision, but I definitively could feel the protagonist's struggles. It was really hard to empathize with Thomas but, at least for the first half of the novel, Astrid's story was graving and even painful.
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This is a quiet, atmospheric novel that explores the unsettling spaces in between relationships. Seemingly out of the blue, Thomas walks out of his backyard, leaving his family behind with no obvious reason. His wife Astrid is left behind, and her character allows us some access to the emotions involved in this event, while Thomas is almost a blank slate. I would have liked a little more access to these characters' motivations, instead of having to read absolutely all of it between the lines. Lovely writing regardless.

This novel was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I would have enjoyed this book much more if I could have identified in any way with at least one of the protagonists. But the author doesn’t seem to be interested in allowing the reader to get to know them in any depth or to understand their plight, and the result is a curiously flat and unemotional novel, in spite of the fact that it’s about an emotional, and certainly in the case of the children, quite heart-breaking situation. The plot is fairly straightforward, almost banal. A seemingly happily married man inexplicably leaves his wife and two small children after an apparently happy family holiday. He just walks out and disappears, leaving his wife to pick up the pieces. It seems to be a purely impulsive decision. The story is narrated through the eyes of both husband and wife, and neither seems to be capable of any depth of feeling. No remorse, no regret, no introspection. This lack of motive or sense of responsibility I found very unsatisfactory, and the book simply didn’t work for me. It seemed to be all surface and no interiority, with an inconclusive and unconvincing ending.
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Oh, boy.

If I were to label this book, I'd say that it is an absolute must-read for a book club. Given that the demographics for most book clubs indicates that they are comprised largely of women, I would LOVE to be a part of a book club that read this one.

On the evening that his family returns from a Spain holiday, Thomas's wife Astrid heads indoors after enjoy a glass of wine with him. While she is tending to their children and unpacking from the trip, Thomas walks to the gate on his property and ... leaves.

Why does he leave, you ask? In this very slim, novella-ish book, Peter Stamm (whose birthday, I discovered through researching him, is the same as mine) doesn't quite give you a clear answer. Perhaps there isn't one. Perhaps it is nothing more than a general malaise, a sort of ennui that settles on married couples after a time.

Let's be honest: who hasn't thought of walking away from their life? Who doesn't think about wandering countrysides, picking up odd jobs and meeting new people? Who doesn't imagine a new life?

The difference between us and Thomas is that he does it.

Meanwhile, Astrid is at home, trying to understand what happens.

Astrid is the more intriguing character to me because of the decisions she makes after her husband leaves. She alone has to care for their home and children. She alone has to explain her husband's behavior. She alone has to maintain their family.

Stamm has an interesting concept on his hands, and I am impressed that he doesn't try to make you empathize with Thomas or even really like him. You will be as confounded as Astrid. The problem isn't that you never really get the clarify you need as far as Thomas is concerned. Rather, the pacing occasionally bogs down, which is an issue in any book but perhaps more glaring in one this slim.

And then there is its ending.

For real. Read this one in your book clubs, and then come back and shout with me about the ending. I need to know if you are as frustrated as I am. Does the ending make you, too, wonder what the point of this book could be?
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Very interesting story and quite unlike anything I have read before.
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