Check Out My Tabs Above

Check Out My Tabs Above - All about books and about people with a passion for reading and writing books in all their forms - old and new. Books as love affairs, memories, surprises, identification and physical entities are part of the passion.

Friday, 20 April 2012


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.

Hans Bizanz: Vienna 1900 - Visual images as a code for time and place.  Reflects on the bright and dark side of creativity. 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.

Graham Greene: The Third Man The Third Man was never written to be read, but only to be seen.’  (Graham Greene)  It was the ‘story’ that Greene wrote  at the request of Sir Alexander Korda so that he (Greene) and Sir Carol Reed  could discuss, negotiate and develop a film about the four power occupation of post war Vienna.    Without the story to establish the atmosphere, h e thought a certain measure  of character and atmosphere would be lost to the ‘dull shorthand of a script.’  The story was his declaration of primacy in the creative process of making this film.  What emerges  is a novella, almost a fragment, a peculiar hybrid tale which is told by Calloway (the detective), on the assumed experiences of Rollo Martins, the ‘innocent’ at the centre of this tangle, and his relationship with, and pursuit of the enigmatic Harry Lime. The shadowy divided image of the city is evoked; the disillusionment of Martins is engendered; we encounter the rank horror of  black market profiteering in penicillin – effectively in life and death;  we see a portrait of an entirely corrupt human being. That Harry Lime ends up being pursued in the sewers resonates with Greene’s  haunted religious metaphors of hell.  The book contains it all. Except, except – that final chase in the sewers is beyond words: film is the medium to express this claustrophobic, enclosed environment which is not just physical but psychological. (I did visit the sewers of Vienna, once…) 

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.

Laurence Payne: Vienna Blood - Straightforward thriller with Vienna as a very atmospheric background. For those who like their Vienna dripping with sprinkling of blood.  Competently written.

Arthur Schnitzler: Dream Story -  Very erotic novella of confession and self revelation, and fantastic – in the true sense - exploration of the layer of violence and the potential for depravity amid the bourgeois comfort of fin-de-siecle Vienna. The fact that the protagonist, like the writer, was a doctor is very relevent to this tale.  Adapted into a film recently called Eyes Wide Shut  by Stanley Cubrick. Not very successful because, in my view, the Americans don’t do eroticism very well. Too  clean and tidy and insistant on explicit, which is the opposite of erotic. The written story is much better.

Larry Wolff: Post Cards from the End of the World This book explores the state of turn of the century Vienna through the prism of three sensational cases of child battering and murder.  A scholarly, fascinating, original book – must-read for anyone truly interested in Vienna. The writer is an historian teaching at Boston College, Massachusetts.

© Wendy Robertson  


  1. Interesting about The Third Man - I didn't know it had been written just for the purposes of film. And the Naomi Mitcheson sounds like a book I'd be very interested in. Thanks Wendy.

  2. Nice to see you here Kathleen. The N.Mitcheson is a very personal account therefore particularly interesting. She was a great woman of those times. Are you still in England? w

  3. Wow! I didn't know there was so much available to read on Vienna. I didn't know much of the city itself untill I toll the Vienna city breaks recently. It is one of the prettiest cities I've visited. Thought I'd share.

  4. It's always interesting to read the fiction of a place in which you are interested, Fun! w