Another top Zweig read: ‘Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman’

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Back in February, I read Pushkin Press’s beautiful new edition of ‘The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig‘ and immediately became a Zweig groupie.  The past year has only increased my enjoyment of his work; in recent months there have been times when I really felt the need for passionate and melodramatic emotional responses to the 20th century.  I’m not being flippant here, Zweig is becoming one of my escapism authors of choice because I completely believe in his characters and their inner turmoil but I also love pretending I’m one of those monied Europeans who suffer said turmoil while staying at luxury holiday resorts.

‘Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman’ delivers everything ‘The Collected Novellas’ had taught me to expect.  The book is a story within a story, told to a single man (check) by an apparently very controlled married woman (check) after a ‘heated discussion‘ between the ‘thoroughly bourgeois company‘ at a hotel on the Riviera (Bingo!)

The heated discussion is about the fact that another hotel guest  has just run away with a man she barely knows.  There are morals, personal and public, to consider and feelings run high.  This is all just preparation though, a warm-up round if you will, because the heart of the story is one told privately by the very controlled woman who has her own reasons for feeling strongly about the issue.

Bingo aside, one reason why Zweig’s novellas are so great is that they contain substance as well as a consistently effective style and structure.  While the bourgeois gossips are obsessed with appearances and one half of the story is consumed with passionate love, the other is about a frighteningly dark addiction.  The first indication comes with the introduction of a man capable of changing a woman’s life; before seeing his face, we view his soul through his hands:

Two hands such as I had never seen before, left and right clutching each other like doggedly determined animals, bracing and extending together and against each other with such heightened tension that the fingers’ joints cracked with a dry sound like a nut cracking open.  They were hands of rare beauty, unusually long, unusually slender yet taut and muscular – very white, the nails pale at their tips, gently curving and the colour of mother of pearl.  I kept watching them all evening, indeed I kept marvelling at those extraordinary, those positively unique hands – but what surprised and alarmed me so much at first was the passion in them, their crazily impassioned expressiveness, the convulsive way they wrestled with and supported each other.  I knew at once that I was seeing a human being overflowing with emotion, forcing his passion into his fingertips lest it tear him apart.’

I don’t want to give away the ultimate obsession in the novel, only that it is as convincing as the language is overblown.  I recommend ’24 hours’ to anyone looking for a new Zweig hit – or as a brilliantly by-the-numbers introduction of what he does best to anyone who wants a way in.

I received my copy of ‘Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman’ from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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9 Responses to Another top Zweig read: ‘Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman’

  1. I’ve not read any Zweig yet but really want to, I have couple of his books in the TBR mountain. The long quote you pulled out is stunning, so I’ll try & unearth my copies sooner rather than later!

    • I had a hard time picking the quotation I wanted for the review – there are several passages of wonderful description that would have gone in if I wasn’t worried about the length of the post!

  2. Melissa Beck says:

    I love Zweig. I was thinking of reviewing this one for German Lit month in November.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I recently read the Pushkin Press ‘Collected Stories’ and really enjoyed the stories, which included ’24 Hours’. Are you sure it’s in the (Pushkin?) ‘Collected Novellas’ as well?

    • Sorry if I was unclear. Pushkin’s collected Novellas contains 5 stories: ‘Burning Secret,’ ‘A Chess Story,’ ‘Fear,’ ‘Confusion,’ and ‘Journey into the Past.’ This copy of ’24 Hours’ was a stand alone novella, though I can easily see it fitting into a larger collection too.

      • Jonathan says:

        Oh, I see; my mistake 🙂 I’m looking forward to the Collected Novellas but I’m going to re-read one or two of the short stories first.

  4. Izzy says:

    I read quite a few of his stories back in the 1990’s, at a time when he was hugely popular in France and his works appeared in nice but cheap collections. Now he seems to have fallen out of favour, God knows why. I don’t care much for these literary fads (the latest fashion is to show contempt for Flaubert’s Emma Bovary). Anyway, I don’t remember reading this one, and I’ve had my eye on the Pushkin editions for a few weeks…I’m so grateful to you, and Simon, and karen for all the beauties you show me. You’ve really broadened my horizon as a reader.

    • It’s what blogging is all about – I know that I’ve been introduced to so many wonderful books and authors through blogger recommendations.
      I’m happy with literary fads when they bring writers back to prominence, but not when they turn into fashions for not liking books (because life really is too short). I think it’s all thanks to Pushkin that Zweig is getting better known in the UK now, they’re on a real mission to get people reading him again.

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