English translation by Ian Mitchell published 1996
I had a bath, washed my hair and blow-dried it. Witold wouldn’t be coming in the morning, since he had to be in school. But as to whether he would arrive immediately after lunch or not until later, I could only guess. From two in the afternoon, I was waiting, in my silken pyjamas; I put away my tea-cup, fetched it out again, cleaned my teeth once more. By six I was extremely edgy....
At last, at eight, he arrived…
‘Come on,’ he said, ‘don’t hang around in the kitchen, lie down on the sofa. I’ll stay with you for a few minutes.’
In my silk nightwear, I tried to assume as decorative a pose as possible, a bit like Tischbein’s painting of Goethe in the Campagna.
‘I looked awful yesterday, you must have been disgusted by the sight of me,’ I murmured.
‘Don’t worry yourself, that’s how everybody looks when they’re in a bad way.’ Witold really did seem to pay precious little attention to my appearance.
observations: This is a strange and very funny book, as the excerpt above might suggest. The painting mentioned is famous in Germany and would be easily imagined by most of Noll’s readers, and it is indeed a splendid image for anyone to bring to mind.
The narrator (known as Rosie, or Rosemarie, or Thyra) is a single woman in a dull job who thinks of herself as very old (in her 50s: can’t agree that this is old…) and decides to make one last grab for happiness and adventure. She more or less decides to fall in love with Witold, her visitor above, and more or less decides to be obsessional and criminal about the relationship. People standing in her way are not going to be blocking her for very long.
She has a very odd tone: she’s not really an unreliable narrator, she is all too reliably reporting what she has done, but there is a clever distance between her flat descriptions of what she has done, and then her getting very upset by some slight from one of the people in her life. She sweeps through some events, and then changes to a very detailed description of others. She is mad as a box of frogs, and rather wonderful. She has something of the older protagonist in Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, and something of the artist Nora in Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.
As part of her personal makeover, she buys herself a wine-red velvet skirt and a crepe-de-chine blouse ‘with a heraldic pattern’. I couldn’t really work out what that pattern would be.
The picture is the one mentioned in the text, from Wikimedia Commons.