I spent some time in the eighties visiting friends in Vienna and working at The International School. I became interested in the role of this city in fiction. I recently gave a talk on this. I thought you might like to see my list of recommended books.
(Somewhere in the
back of my mind was – and is - an idea for a novel – not about the sewers but
about this idealistic young teacher who visits Vienna and has her innocent pre-conceptions smashed...)
Here’s my list:
Phil Andrews: Goodnight Vienna - Well written football thriller which ends up in the sewers of Vienna. A bit of a cross between a police procedural and ‘They Think Its All Over’. The Times says ‘A pinch of Chandler, a dash of Nick Hornby… a pacy, vigourous read ’ so it can’t be bad… The writer is an award winning sports journalist.
Barea Ilse: Vienna - A panoramic book that considers the landscape, the historic and political identity of the city. It addresses and sometimes confirms, sometimes refutes, the gilded image and exotic myth of faintly decadent glamour of this city. Rather wide in scope but worth persisting with, Viennese born, this writer and scholar was a leading activist of her generation, a political refugee in Czechoslovakia, and later in England in the 30s, she also fought in the Spanish Civil war on the Republican side. Her own life reads like a novel…
Frank Buranelli: The Wizard From Vienna - Franz Anton Mesmer and the origins of hypnotism. Chosen here as just one example of the huge range of intellectual, eccentric and original people – some geniuses - emerging from or working in this city. The list would include Mozart, Freud, Mahler, Hofmannstal, Klimt, Kokoschka, Schnitzler, Kraus and Wittkenstein to name but a few.
Richard Bassett : The Austrians - Strange Tales from the Vienna Woods.
Easy to read, well written contemporary perspective on the city by the (in 1987 ) Times Central and East Europe correspondent. Breaks down some myths and introduces us to modern Vienna. Recommended.
Georg Clare: Last Waltz in Vienna -The Destruction of a family 1842-1942
An absolutely sensitive and savagely touching memoir of Clare which encompasses the saga of his whole family and allows us to understand, with more than brute comprehension, the human side of the dawning days of what we now label somewhat automatically as the holocaust. Here one can see the degradation and decline of Vienna as something of a metaphor for this process. Beautifully told, human story. The writer became a naturalised British citizen and a member of the British Army. Recommended.
Sarah Gainham: The Hapsburg Twilight Eight dense and well written vignettes of life in Vienna in the dying years of the 19th Century by an English writer who lived and worked there from 1947. My favourite story is that of Anna Sacher doyenne of the famous Hotel Sacher who reminds me of the ‘Duchess of Duke Street’ with her respectable front and her tolerance of indiscretions. This same Hotel Sacher features as a somewhat seedy hotel in post war Vienna in Graham Greene’s The Third Man, mentioned below. In Greene’s novel the mysterious Harry Lime has his friend Rollo Martins accommodated in The Sacher Hotel which, in the post war occupation, is only open to approved military and civilian personnel of the occupying forces. No Austrians.
Brigitte Haman: Hitler’s Vienna - A dictator’s apprenticeship.
Scholarly , heavy duty but satisfying read for those interested in Hitler’s very significant relationship with this city. The paradox of Hitler as a miserable, flawed but human character. On account has him, in poverty, wearing a long garment, half frock coat, half kaftan. (The suggestion is it was a Jewish type garment.) One colleague talked politics to him while the other ties the tails beneath the bench. ‘All of them then (would start to…) contradict him, a thing he could never stand. He’d leap to his feet, drag the bench after him with a great rumble… When Hitler got excited he couldn’t restrain himself. He screamed and fidgeted with his hands.’ I found this chilling, even now. For those with a bit of time and a lot of interest, this would be a satisfying read.
Eva Ibbotson: A Gloveshop in Vienna & Other Stories - Traditional well written stories with an authentic, if exotic mid-European charm. The title story has a distinctive feel for Vienna in the early years of this century. The writer - originally a fiction writer for magazines such as Good Housekeeping - was born in Vienna in 1933 but by 1984 was living in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Naomi Mitcheson: Naomi Micheson’s Vienna Diary A real find, published in 1934. A fascinating diary by a prominent 20th Century novelist and lifelong feminist and socialist who was active in anti-fascist activities in the 1930s. Her day by day observations of life in 1930’s Vienna is engrossing and illuminating. Further novels and autobiographical writings of interest to anyone interested in British social and cultural history.
Betty Neels : Magic In Vienna - Easy to read love story to read with a box of chocolates. Vienna lite.
© Wendy Robertson