Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun - Book Review

Title: The Artificial Silk Girl
Author: Irmgard Keun
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: 14th June 2011
Pages: 216
Format: E-Book - PDF
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: ARC from NetGalley

In 1931, a young woman writer living in Germany was inspired by Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to describe pre-war Berlin and the age of cinematic glamour through the eyes of a woman. The resulting novel, The Artificial Silk Girl, became an acclaimed bestseller and a masterwork of German literature, in the tradition of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories and Bertolt Brecht's Three Penny Opera. Like Isherwood and Brecht, Keun revealed the dark underside of Berlin's "golden twenties" with empathy and honesty. Unfortunately, a Nazi censorship board banned Keun's work in 1933 and destroyed all existing copies of The Artificial Silk Girl. Only one English translation was published, in Great Britain, before the book disappeared in the chaos of the ensuing war. Today, more than seven decades later, the story of this quintessential "material girl" remains as relevant as ever, as an accessible new translation brings this lost classic to light once more. Other Press is pleased to announce the republication of The Artificial Silk Girl, elegantly translated by noted Germanist Kathie von Ankum, and with a new introduction by Harvard professor Maria Tatar. (Goodreads Synopsis)

The first few pages of this book, I really struggled, trying to follow as Doris shifted from one thought to another, segueing from topic to topic with no real pause. That is why I have always had a general dislike for stream of consciousness novels.

Anyhow, I persevered and gradually found myself getting into the flow of the prose.

The story is simple enough, following Doris as she moves through a string of men and troubles in Berlin in the early 1930's. You get a great sense of time and place from her descriptions and the characters come across well too.

Anyone who is into the Bridget Jones style 'dear diary' reads will probably find this enjoyable as it is really a sort of precursor to that idea, but written more as a single stream than as dated entries in a diary.

I found it an enjoyable read, but I had wished for a slightly different ending and felt a little flat when I turned the final page. Also, the language seemed stiff at times, but I am not sure if that was the style of the piece or just a translation matter; I may read it in German later to compare. Still, an interesting glimpse at 1930's Berlin, told from an eccentric, upbeat point of view. Worth checking out.

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