I have been going through an odd reading phase recently. I cannot seem to settle into a book and have started and not completed several. Those on my incomplete list include: Lost and Found by Brooke Davis; Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish; A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James and The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff (now a movie!). These novels all sit at varying stages of completion in my eReader or on my beside table. I was enjoying them all for the most part and I will finish them eventually. I just cannot get into a groove with these tomes and so they remain suspended in purgatory for now until I can release them from their dormant slumber.
The other day I walked passed my local bookshop (an all too regular occurrence) and a book with an innocuous cover and an innocuous title jumped out at me for an inexplicable reason. I didn’t even read the blurb at the back and went home to download it immediately. I have been bunkered down ever since. My seemingly dehydrated mind has absorbed this this book like the nourishment it has been wanting. This text is glorious.
As a former and current student of history (currently at Masters level), my devotion and adulation of history is well known and well documented. But I can suffer from familiarity fatigue – once I have intimate knowledge of a subject matter it is difficult to be excited unless there is a different angle or new evidence. Or both.
The House by The Lake is both. It reveals the history of Germany through, as the title suggests, a modest house by a lake a few kilometres outside Berlin. The intimacy of this approach combined with familiarity of German history makes for incredibly compelling reading. I have a keen interest in German history, particularly the interwar years of the Weimar Republic. From Eric Hobsbawn to Peter Gay; from Richard Vinen to Richard Bessel, if they wrote about Germany throughout the interwar years I have most likely read it and very likely written about it. There is not much new for me to uncover. Until now.
This history is personal. Part memoir, part historical investigation, Thomas Harding shares the story of his family’s connection to a (now) derelict cottage in Grosse Glienicke, a village 15 kilometres west of downtown Berlin. The lives of the various inhabitants unfold and reveal themselves through time. It is such a unique perspective, I defy anyone to read this book and not absolutely love it. Not unlike Anna Funder’s (also brilliant) Stasiland, this is a modern take on some known themes. Gripping, intriguing, melancholic in parts, this is simply a damn good yarn.