The second part of a loose trilogy entitled ‘Biography of a Woman’, Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts stands alone as an autobiographical novel chronicling the end of a thirty-year relationship. In the same cool, unfussy prose displayed in its predecessor, Das Vorkommnis, this first-person narrative is a carefully crafted exploration of the mundane details that constitute daily life as a couple, set against the backdrop of socio-political changes in East Germany. Julia Schoch’s astute observations and characteristic lightness of touch conspire to create an extremely readable novel that will appeal to fans of Annie Ernaux.
Opening with an attention-grabbing statement, ‘I’m leaving you’, Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts is narrated by an unnamed woman addressing her partner of thirty years. They have two children – about whom most details are omitted – yet, after half a lifetime together, the narrator is dissatisfied and planning to end their relationship. Her partner, we sense, may see things differently, though we only have access to his thoughts in what the narrator is able to observe of his reactions. Schoch’s decision to write from such an intimate first-person perspective and to focus on the small details of life, rather than milestone events, gives Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts a timeless quality and ensures it will be universally relatable.
Looking back over three decades, from youthful infatuation to the challenges of bringing up children, maintaining a home, falling out of love and gradually establishing a peaceful yet humdrum co-existence, the narrator sets her relationship’s highs and lows within the context of East Germany’s ideological collapse and rebuilding. This mirroring effect adds historical and social weight to the novel; it gives rise to questions about where world events and personal experience intersect, the values and ideals we pass on to our children, and how something as “ordinary” as a relationship can outlast governments, revolutions, even entire political regimes.
A tribute to love even as it chronicles its end, Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts also draws attention to the process of writing in an autofictional style that is very of-the-minute. Further themes include the overlap between memory and fiction, the human need to attach significance to our experiences, and the weariness so many people feel at the rapid changes taking place in the world. Quiet yet memorable, laced with gentle humour and displaying great care in its use of language, Julia Schoch’s compact novel is a wise and touching meditation on relationships.
Rights sold: The Netherlands, Singel; Spain, Maeva; Denmark, Klara W.