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Julia Schoch
The Slow Dissolution of a Great Love

They are three words, each of which means a beginning and an end: I love you. I’m leaving you. But what lies in between? In the case of the first-person narrator in Julia Schoch’s new novel, a 30-year relationship. First elation, celebration, then everyday life, children, betrayal, anger. 

By Benedikt Arnold

Schoch: Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts © dtv The emotional cascade of a love affair: That’s the subject of the second volume of Julia Schoch’s auto-fictional trilogy Biografie einer Frau (Biography of a Woman). A nameless first-person narrator falls in love with a nameless man, both come from the former GDR, both study in a city in recently united Germany. It’s the much-invoked enchantment inherent in their love overture that makes their coupledom a cosmos of its own. Enchantment that makes them believe they are Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts (The lovers of the century) – at least in their own perception.

In the novel, it’s the perspective of the first-person narrator through which the reader looks at the story. In selected moments, she allows him to speak and he expresses his taciturn pragmatism: “To constantly break up and fall in love again is like watching the beginning of hundreds of movie, but not one to the end.”

How did it come to this?

The reader is, however, not presented with a joint look at their three-decade relationship; this is no couple’s therapy story. Rather, the narrator asks herself how her loss of autonomy came about and how unconditional love could have turned into suspicious distrust. Why did she begin to make silent assumptions about her husband instead of confronting him directly?  

Julia Schoch’s protagonist reflects on an ordinary relationship: from symbiosis to slow alienation to the dissociation of love. The narrator repeatedly attempts to describe this imperceptible dissolution: “Unhappiness didn’t come crashing down on us, didn’t burst in on us; it entered slowly, almost gently it crept in.”

How did love give way to a feeling of frayed affection and, finally, a will to destroy? The protagonist reflects on the moments when she faced crossroads either blindly, paralysed or irresolutely. “Looking back, I can think of hundreds of moments that would have been suitable moments to leave you.” Again and again, the narrator confronts her old self, listens to herself, laments, searches for the right tone in the hearing of herself.  

It is the impatience of the heart that makes the narrator ask questions of herself, of him, of love. She relentlessly illuminates the darkest corners of their three-decade relationship. Is it the story of a loss or the story of a liberation? The inner monologue of the narrative doesn’t allow for a change of perspective, and the novel’s strength lies precisely in this one-sided narrative principle of self-questioning.

No nostalgia

But how do you grasp such a story? “You remember the beginning and you remember the end. You don’t remember the main thing; the time in between.” In sensitive reflections on love, her love, the narrator describes the greyness of duration and the nuances of everyday trivialities in vivid and truthful observations – filling in the bracket between loving and leaving.

Against the backdrop of the couple’s East German socialisation, the novel takes on an additional socio-cultural level. In the face of progressive social change in a united Germany, they become aware of their unifying GDR origins. The juxtaposition of these phenomena beyond one-dimensional nostalgia and reminiscence adds a profound facet to the novel.

Like her previous volume, Das Vorkommnis (The Incident), Julia Schoch’s new novel is characterised by a laconic elegance of style and language. The writer and translator from Mecklenburg surrenders the autonomy of the narrative to her protagonist, who gives herself over entirely to contemplations about love and its decay. At times there is a cautious listening in, the next moment impatient questioning, and all too often a plea to herself for peace.

Logo Rosinenpicker © Goethe-Institut / Illustration: Tobias Schrank Julia Schoch: Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts. Biografie einer Frau Band 2
München: dtv, 2023. 192 p.
ISBN: 978-3-423-28333-5
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