The Walk is my first exposure to Walser, and it makes me eager ready to read more. Why ‘ready’ rather than ‘eager’? There’s an intentional tediousness at work in the novella—a tendency to over-qualify, to ‘beat to death,’ if you prefer. As the narrator begins his perambulation (paragraph one), he encounters on the stair a woman, a “Spaniard, a Peruvian, or a Creole,” and accounts for his mood (in paragraph two) by saying, “Everything I saw made upon me a delightful impression of friendliness, of goodliness, and of youth. I quickly forgot that up in my room I had only just a moment before been brooding gloomily over a blank sheet of paper. Sorrow, pain, and grave thoughts were as vanished, although I vividly sensed the seriousness still before me and behind me,” before (paragraph five) he encounters a second character, one of “incontrovertible power in person, serious, ceremonial, and majestical. Professor Meili trod his way; in his hand he held an unbendable scientific walking stick, which infused me with dread, reverence, and esteem. Meili’s nose was a sharp, imperative, stern hawk- or eagle-nose.” You get the picture. The text is weighted by a listedness; it renders what might be an aimless ramble more of a trudge.
Human interaction is largely exaggerated—emotionally and with tremendous verbosity—also, it’s frequently painful to witness: an unnecessary argument with a bookseller, fawning when presented with a generous monetary gift, ranting at anyone nearby when he encounters signage that insults his intelligence and sense of propriety, adulation when addressing a woman who’d been singing in her yard, an odd brevity and well wishes when he encounters the giant Tomzack, a source of torment, and terror while at a much anticipated luncheon with Frau Aebi, his adamant and garrulous equal. Over the course of his walk, he tells the reader (the reader is frequently addressed personally), “’All this,’ so I proposed resolutely, ‘I shall soon sketch and write down in a piece or sort of fantasy, which I shall call ‘The Walk.’”
The novella isn’t merely an account of the people the narrator meets, by chance or design, as he walks. He also speculates on art, nature, adornment, and more as he wanders and eventually recalls…but, that would be a spoiler.
If one were to think about it, when an aimless walk becomes purposive, it necessarily becomes a list of sorts, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Purpose becomes a list, a list becomes a novella, a novella becomes “The Walk.”
Averaging the eight titles I’ve read from the New Directions Pearls series, they’re at 4.5 stars, appreciably (if you’re me) more than the 4.1 average over all the books I’ve rated—and, yes, it is a high average, but I’m lucky enough to have not read a lot of crap, due in great part to the recommendations from GR acquaintances. In retrospect, I’ve probably been generous as often as not.