The Ship by Hans Henny Jahnn


the intro namechecks both melville and giorgio de chirico and the book indeed is an odd combination of nautical metaphysics and surrealism’s insidiously creepy emptying out.

an intense mystery story, not unlike the slow build-up of a bela tarr movie. in places it moves at a wild pace like a murder story’s final confrontation or a chase scene; other times it lingers endlessly over each character’s neurotics and guilt and anxiety–everyone in it an active raskolnikov. (and maybe the book is one long crime and punishment minus the denouement–just accusations and guilt.)

i did find myself a little struck by tedium midway through, waiting as the horror story set up itself–but then man, did i get walloped by the ending. it certainly leaves an impression…

and other than this overall, final and somewhat crushing impression, which is weighty and mysteriously achieved, the sentence-by-sentence style is what i think’s also most memorable about it. (even so, it’s a sum greater than its parts.) but here’s but one early example:

“We have witnessed the horrible again and again, a transformation no one could foresee. A healthy body is run over by a truck, crushed. Blood, once secreted, once feeling its way blindly through the body, pulsating in a meshwork of thin streams, spreading the chemically charged hormones and their mysterious functions like a red tree inside man–this blood now runs out shapelesssly in great puddles. And still no one grasps that, in a network of veins, it has form. But even more horrible–the death struggle itself, in which the innumerable organs, which we believe we feel, take part. Terror is stronger in us than delight” (p. 32).

found thankfully through will schofield’s blog.

try to buy used or find at a library

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