Flyweight is a gem. The charm of its characters and the unanticipated depths of emotion that it evokes make reading it a rare and warm experience. The dialogue, intelligent and funny, makes it impossible not to fall in love with the people in and around hospital room number five.
Set in a hospital cardiology department, the first-person narrator is slowly recovering from an operation. The novel’s setting is the room that she shares with three old ladies: Frau Ott is the ringleader with two passions in life, men and Sophia Loren; Frau Ferdinand secretly mourns the tragic love of her youth, regrets her life and waits for the death that never seems to come for her; and Frau Blaser frets about her son, Ursl, who has escaped her mother’s crippling concern by moving to America, and daughter Ursl, who has not.
The atmosphere is largely the creation of these three ladies. The constant banal prattle that fills room five is often funny and always disarmingly charming. The three elderly ladies are by turns completely lovable and utterly exasperating; they are convincingly written as examples of the kind of elderly relative whose idiosyncrasies have become part of the reason we adore them. The narrator is quickly drawn into the peculiar atmosphere of the shared room, though she speaks very little herself, expressing most of her opinions only in the form of thoughts. The action of the novel, if it may indeed be called action, is character-driven, plot events being of secondary importance and mostly of a fairly trivial nature.
When the action does slip from these shared trivialities to true drama, it is fatal: Frau Blaser dies unexpectedly. The silence and sudden anxiety that overtake the remaining occupants of room five are felt all the more strongly because they cut through the very fabric of the text, providing a concrete but unobtrusive commentary on loss and how people can unexpectedly change you without you even noticing.
Mayer’s winning style is simple and straightforward. The strength of her writing is her ability to create dialogue that is absurd, at times extremely funny and above all very real. There is undeniably genuine love and genuine sorrow in Flyweight and it will be with regret that the reader eventually puts the book down. A perfect summer read.
All recommendations from Autumn 2010