"Die Nacht war lang. Das Zimmer ein Schiff, verloren im Weltall."
[Tr.: "The night was long. The room was a ship, lost in outer space."]
Yes, this quote absolutely bowled me over. I loved the imagery in this book - even when she described the characters' most desperate moments, AS managed to draw me right in. And as for the image of a ship lost in outer space....well, how often do you come across similar ideas in a novel written in 1932/3?
Flucht nach Oben [Tr. Escape to Higher Ground] is a story set in an Alpine ski resort where the well to-do mingle with the locals who are trying to make a living. The story follows a group of characters: three ski instructors, each with a different outlook on life; Esther, who married for money but is bored and lonely; Adrienne, who forces herself to recover from an unspecified illness (most likely tuberculosis) by training for a skiing competition; Adrienne's son Klaus, who finds it hard to see his mother suffer and struggles to make friends; Carl Eduard, father of Klaus and brother to one of the ski instructors, who despairs over life; and Matthisch a young boy who succumbs to deception.
This is a novel with depth. I could not possibly do the story justice if I tried to describe all of the aspects that I found fascinating, but there are three that stood out for me:
First, as some you know, I am not a fan of Thomas Mann. However, I am glad I have read The Magic Mountain if only to enjoy the comparison of AS novel with Mann's story - which also features illness and the differentiation between life atop a mountain and life in the valley. It is a similar theme in Flucht nach Oben but it lacks Mann's pompousness - which to be fair was grinding on me through every single page of his very, very long novel. Because AS' writing style is more natural, the relationships between the characters are more realistic, and when she describes details of intimacy the scenes become quite intense.
Second, I loved AS' perceptiveness. She describes the zeitgeist of the story to the point where I could picture it perfectly. Not just the dialogues, but the surroundings, the dialects, the sounds even. At one point one of the characters travels to Berlin. AS made the trip quite frequently herself, often visiting Klaus or Erika Mann. The details are meticulous. The chapter begins with a consideration of the route - the towns he, the character, passes on the train - and ends with a description of the hustle and bustle of the city and the general feeling of anxiety and alienation towards a society that is so remote from the mountain setting.
Third, I loved that AS took the notion of a coming of age story but turned it on its head and has every single one of the characters embark on a journey of self-discovery and growth. In essence, AS rejects the notion that a coming of age story is limited to characters of a young age. The result is that the story has many protagonists - all quite well developed - and their interaction with each other provides the different pieces to the puzzle that is their individual fates.
Oh, and the story has some cliff hangers throughout which are so well placed that I could not put it down once I picked it up on a flight this evening.