Wolf Haas - The reader must infer a sensational love story that the author hasn’t actually written, but which his fictional persona describes to a contentious interviewer. This narrative grips the reader as they argue about the mysterious plot















Wolf Haas, The Weather Fifteen Years Ago, Trans. by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen, Ariadne Press, 2009.

The Weather Fifteen Years Ago is no conventional narrative. The reader must infer a sensational love story that the author hasn’t actually written, but which his fictional persona describes to a contentious interviewer. This narrative grips the reader as they argue about the mysterious plot.
The real Haas plays several mind-games at once, for the love story begins with an exquisite kiss between the protagonists who have known each other since childhood. The reader must deduce the mysterious relationships, which zigzag erotically through several characters and two generations. At the core of all this is a sophisticated web of scientific and poetic weather lore.
The prosaic romantic hero, Vittorio Kowalski possesses a strange talent: he can remember the weather for every day of the past fifteen years in a certain village in the Austrian Alps. When he is invited to display this uncanny ability on a TV game show, he uncovers memories of his unrequited love for an Austrian girl named Anni, the accident that led to her father's death, and his own near-fatal experience at the place of their secret childhood meetings. As the interview progresses, intricacies of the children’s parents’ stories unfold to reveal a startling erotic entanglement. On the very last day of the fictional transcription, we learn almost everything else.

Vittorio Kowalski, the son of a of a miner from the Ruhr, has notched up a strange achievement: every day for the past fifteen years, starting at the age when he himself was fifteen, he has recorded the weather in a small Alpine village in Austria where he and his family used to spend their summer holidays, always staying in the same pension. What is more, he can remember every detail of the weather of every day. Now he is invited to display this uncanny ability on a TV game show. The dates pour out. But so, in Vittorio's mind, do a stream of memories he had previously repressed - memories of his unfulfilled love for a local girl called Anni, of the terrible accident that led to her father's death, of his own near death at the place of their clandestine meeting, and of a secret love affair between his mother and the dead man. His feelings of guilt as a result of these dreadful events drove a wedge between the young couple. Will another unnatural death, now belatedly revealed, have the unexpected effect of reconciling them?
Wolf Hass made his name with a gripping succession of thrillers featuring the grumpy Inspector Brenner, whose line is a penchant for morose meditation but who always gets his man. Now he has embarked on quite a new line, writing books that combine the crime novel and the love story and in this latest offering throwing in an extra trick. This is to relate the story not as straight narrative but in the form of a book-length interview between Wolf Haas and a fictitious journalist. The result is an additional layer of suspense as interviewer and interviewee elaborate on seemingly peripheral - and often idiosyncratic and hilarious - side aspects of the tale, while the reader waits impatiently for the jigsaw pieces to fall into place. It also allows the opinionated Haas the pleasure of airing his own caustic views on literary, business, and journalistic ways of life. True to his old form, Haas brings this tale to a spectacular and stunning conclusion. With its light and witty style and unconventional approach, this book is a devilish delight. - www.new-books-in-german.com/aut2006/book02a.htm


The publication of the second half of John Domini’s essay on postmodern fiction is a great occasion to talk about The Weather Fifteen Years Ago, which I finished over the weekend. I think it would fit in comfortably somewhere between Michael Martone and Zeroville as a book that absolutely thrives off of metanarrative and modern entertainment culture but that also manages to fit in quite a bit of what would generally be construed as novelistic.
The book is written in the form of a series of interviews with an author named Wolf Haas (also the name of the author of Weather) about his latest book. The book “Haas” is discussing is a love story, and one of the striking things about this form of narration is that we quickly learn that the fictional lovers in his book are modeled on “real-life” lovers that “Haas” discovered while watching TV. So right away we have a number of levels of reality interspersed: the twice-invented lovers that are created in the book by the authorial persona “Wolf Haas”; the singly-invented lovers that the real-life Haas creates for “Haas” to discover in the reality of the book’s world; and the authorial persona “Haas,” whose words we get to hear first-hand. The whole state of affairs is summed up well in this review of the German-language edition of the book:
It’s a neat reversal: early in the novel we learn that “Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren” had been written from Kowalski’s perspective, so that many aspects that concern only him are not raised. As Wittgenstein said, you can’t see your own eyeballs. Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, in contrast, is written from Haas’ perspective so we only get his reading of the story. The aspects he selects to make the fictitious novel palpable, are those that his individual critical mind would consider relevant. The discussion of the limitations of Kowalski’s point of view are allusions to this. Thus, the book becomes a Chinese box of poetological reflections.
Weather is indeed a delight for people who enjoy play with metanarrative and conceptual games, but it also has quite a bit of what, for lack of a better name, I might call good old fashioned realism. “Haas” and his interviewer spend a lot of time fleshing out the four principle characters (as well as a handful of adjuncts) and their motivations, and the result is that–though we only know all of these people secondhand–they come across as better realized and more interesting than characters in many books I read this year that attack the matter of character-creation head-on. Oddly enough, if I were to complain about characters in Weather, it would be about the ones we know most directly, “Haas” and his interlocutor. It’s not that they’re done badly, just that compared to the characters they discuss over the course of the interviews they don’t quite feel as richly imagined.
Ariadne Press–publishers of Elfriede Jelinek, Arthur Schnitzler, and Gert Jonke, among other notable Austrians–has done great work by bringing this book into English. Though it was a best-selling award-winner in Austria, it’s the kind of book that I have a hard time seeing many U.S. publishers taking a chance on. But it really is an excellent execution of a find concept, and it sits well among a lot of what has been going on in American postmodernism these days. And the translation here is first-rate. These interviews move back and forth between conceptual lit-crit talk and idiomatic spoken language, and I’m guessing that it took some work to bring both into authentic-sounding English. But time and again I was forced to stop in admiration at how translators Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen handled (what I imagined to be) another translation challenge. - Scott Esposito

There is a German TV show called “Wetten dass“, which is one of the most successful shows in Europe, I think. The principle is quite simple. Ordinary people come on and propose outrageous bets, do strange things like drag a car through the room while balancing an egg. Oddities like this. A celebrity then bets on the outcome (will the contestant manage to do what he proposes to do?), and agrees to do something silly in case of losing that bet. In Wolf Haas’ latest novel, published in 2006, Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren (The Weather 15 Years Ago) a man appears on the show who bets he can remember the weather in a remote mountain village in Austria during the last fifteen years; that is: he bets he can remember how on every single day during those fifteen years the weather was. The host, Thomas Gottschalk, then picks five random days and the contestant really comes through, guessing all five correctly.
That miraculous contestant is called Vittorio Kowalski. The delicious incongruity of that name may not be immediately apparent to someone who doesn’t speak the language, but in German, the name Kowalski, though it is of Polish origin, connotes a grimily working-class background, someone who comes from a very particular area in Germany, the so-called Ruhrpott, one of Germany’s most active and traditional coal mining regions. The contrast to the Italian scent that is exuded from “Vittorio” couldn’t be stronger. It is from this character and his odd bet, that this book’s involving plot is spun. An engaging story about love and death, thwarted desire and crime unfolds in its pages. Ah, but wait. You don’t yet know the strangest thing about the novel. It’s an interview.
No, really, it is. The whole book is written as an interview: an anonymous critic, known only by the term Literaturbeilage (which basically means “Book Supplement”) and Wolf Haas discuss his latest book, “Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren,” not to be confused with Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, the book that I actually read. It looks exactly like an interview (or a play, for that matter), and the fictionality of it all is the only difference to an actual, journalistic interview. It’s a mammoth, in-depth interview that takes place over several days. The book they discuss doesn’t really exist, but in their discussions of minutiae from the non-existing novel, they recreate it for the reader (as much as you can “recreate” something that doesn’t exist), or a simulation of it. The critic takes it slowly, discussing the fictitious book bit by bit, not summing up events, not fast-forwarding. Thus, as far as pace and structure of the plot is concerned, the interview behaves like a novel, but through a dark and strange looking-glass.
We happen upon ‘quotes’, complete with a discussion of word choice and implication, we are told why Wolf Haas (or should that come with quotation marks, “Wolf Haas”? I think it should) chose to tell the story as he did, what his intention was in using certain symbols and allusions, and so on. The light banter between the critic and “Wolf Haas” is great fun to read, as is the whole book. If you have ever read another book by Haas, that should not come as a surprise. Wolf Haas is an Austrian writer, who became famous as a writer of crime novels centered around an inspector called Brenner. These books are smart, funny and very readable; what’s more, he got started as a writer of humorous radio dialogues, in a way, he returns to his literary origins. What did surprise me, however, was that the whole construct actually works. As we read on, we are really getting caught up in the story, in the tumultuous final events and may even be moved by its conclusion.
Although we are told right at the beginning that the story will end with the kiss that Kowalski waited 15 years for, the end does affect (and may even delight) you. I called this surprising, and it is, because the book seems so clever, so self-involved with its gadgets and tricks, but the story, that’s scattered all over that lively interview, is a good yarn, a truly entertaining tale of passion. And to Wolf Haas’ credit, although his fictitious alter ego and the critic do reflect upon the story a lot, and joke about many parts of it, he does not caricature the genre, I think. He does not take cheap potshots, or not very often. That story is affecting and it’s framed as being affecting as well, and the author may poke fun at many things, but the story isn’t one of them. Both the general method of the book and the very genre that the fictitious novel is written in (a genre which borders on caricature anyway) invite a certain danger of satirizing the book.
Haas has evaded this by imbuing the fictitious novel with an air of authenticity. Within the confines of Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, “Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren” is based on an actual contestant, it’s the fictional nonfiction account of Kowalski’s exploits, and “Haas” himself has been part of these events, as an observer. Haas has himself a great time with the whole idea of authenticity, throughout the book. Additionally to what has already been mentioned, Haas presents “Haas” as a writer who’s open to others’ interpretations, who would not want to claim sole ownership of a book’s meaning. “Haas” may have a personal reading of the novel, but he does not necessarily accord it a special status. But in the actual book, Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, we only get “Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren” as read by the critic and “Haas”, we only, so to say, get his side of the story.
It’s a neat reversal: early in the novel we learn that “Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren” had been written from Kowalski’s perspective, so that many aspects that concern only him are not raised. As Wittgenstein said, you can’t see your own eyeballs. Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, in contrast, is written from Haas’ perspective so we only get his reading of the story. The aspects he selects to make the fictitious novel palpable, are those that his individual critical mind would consider relevant. The discussion of the limitations of Kowalski’s point of view are allusions to this. Thus, the book becomes a Chinese box of poetological reflections. All kinds of sections refer to all other kinds of sections, and any aspect must be read with reference to the particular filter you’re using. Are we talking about the real events that “Haas” witnessed, the childhood events that “Haas” can only guess at, the fictitious novel or the actual novel that you can read in the actual world. The ease with which Haas handles these levels puts many other, more serious writers to shame. And this despite the fact that the whole business of levels is but a background issue.
The two most important themes of the book are the story on the one hand, and the ongoing discussion about the limits of authorial control over their material which may be the most dominant part of the interview. “Haas” is frequently confronted with lewd readings of passages that he considered proper and not sexual at all, he is struggling both with those parts of “Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren” that are fiction, and with those that are nonfiction. “Haas” bases much that he has not observed himself on interviews with Kowalski (see, different levels, iterations again) that he himself had conducted. All this is, as I said, great fun, moving, smart and much more. The only downside to this is the actual writing. Having written an interview, Haas has had to use a language that sounds colloquial, that recreates the authenticity of an actual interview. But a whole book of artificially blanded language can be taxing, and does reduce the enjoyment of this book to an extent. It’s a good thing then that it’s so clever, even on the level of language. Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren may be somewhat bland, but it also contains the occasional pun and intriguing observations about characteristics of the Austrian variety of German. If anyone who reads this has any pull with translators: do translate it. I cannot imagine Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren to be less than terrific in French or English. It’s simply a good book, one of the few books I know that is a complex, genuinely experimental novel, and at the same time a quick, fun, light read. That’s why it both became a bestseller and won a prestigious literary prize. Highly recommended. - shigekuni.wordpress.com/2009/07/16/weatherman-wolf-haas-das-wetter-vor-15-jahren/

“I think that's... pretty wonderful.  That someone even pays attention to the weather of the past. The weather is the kind of thing you’re only interested in to know it’s going to be tomorrow.”I’ve never read a book quite like The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas. It doesn’t proceed in any typical sort of narrative, but instead is simply a conversation between an author and a book reviewer. That’s it. Back and forth, chatting. Sometimes trivial, sometimes bitter, but always, back and forth. It should be boring as hell, but it’s wonderful.
When I first began the book, I wasn’t sure I could tolerate the style. Then I became hooked, on both the underlying story and the snarky conversation of the two. Over the course of several days, the reviewer and author meet and discuss different elements of the story. The reviewer questions the use of certain words and phrases, asks why characters behave as they do, and generally tries to get the author to admit to certain prejudices in the story (regarding women, national culture, etc). The author, for his part, gives new meaning to the term “unreliable narrator”, because you never really know if it’s the author Haas or a character created by Haas who is beguilingly called Hass (who happens to be an author). It’s really not as confusing as it sounds!
The book they discuss is the account of a man who is obsessed with the weather at the resort he stayed in as a child, where all kinds of influential events took place. Even as he seems to forget the place, the habit remains: he finds out the weather and keeps track. The story is told backwards, and characters are introduced randomly that fill out the plot and keep it lively. Yet, it has to be remembered…as interesting as their conversation is, there is no book for you to pick up to read. The interview is the book. It’s an entirely different way of reading, because every detail has to be discerned by direct (or offhand) comments by the speakers. It’s almost like eavesdropping on a juicy story.
And while it’s clever and witty, it’s also sort of profound. Haas describes the complexities of writing and creating characters:
“You can’t tell everything about a person and still make them appealing. People are appealing because you don’t know too much about them.”
“After all, I think that for the purposes of the book, having one defined direction is more dynamic than multiple compass points. I always say that artifice begins with symmetry.”

The reviewer tries to draw out intentions from Haas that may or may not exist, and provokes him a bit as she tries to uncover sentiments that she senses are there. Thus they discuss the ways people interpret and misconstrue plot and character elements. Essentially, this is two stories in one: the interview, and the plot of the book that you’ll never get to read. When you finish, you actually feel bummed out that you can’t go and order it immediately. - www.theblacksheepdances.com/2010/08/weather-fifteen-years-ago-wolf-haas.html

Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren ('The weather fifteen years ago') is all about the telling, rather than the story. The story itself is a fairly simple one: daily for fifteen years the now thirty-year-old Vittorio Kowalski has been getting the weather-details from the Austrian village of Farmach where his family used to vacation -- and where as a youngster he fell in love with local girl Anni. He hasn't been back all those years, but he's memorized all the weather-details, and that lands him on a German TV quiz-show, Wetten, dass ... ? where contestants show off their peculiar talents (and being able to give the exact weather readings in Farmach for five randomly chosen days from the past fifteen years actually makes Kowalski that day's winner). His TV-success leads to a reunion with Anni -- and the circumstances lead to both ancient and new history being dredged up and made: secrets from the past are uncovered, and meanwhile Anni is about to get married to Kowalski's old rival .....
       But Haas does not tell this story like one usually tells stories. Instead he posits that he -- Wolf Haas -- has written a novel based on Kowalski's story (and called Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, and with the yellow air-mattress on the cover ...). The Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren the reader holds in his hands is not that book: it consists entirely of a five-part dialogue between author Wolf Hass and a nameless journalist, a woman writing for a literary supplement. It's not entirely realistic -- what newspaper or magazine could afford to have a reporter spend five days on such a story ? and what author would put up with it ? -- but serves Haas' purposes well.
       What they talk about is the book, this Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren that Haas wrote, which slowly begins to take shape in the reader's mind as they discuss it. From the beginning they discuss it taking complete familiarity with it for granted, revealing bits and pieces from throughout the story that the reader initially can't really place -- until, eventually the picture becomes clear. It's not as easy as it perhaps sounds, with Haas playing more than one game here. So, for example, there's the tantalizing early mention of the kiss Kowalski gets from Anni, the kiss he's been waiting fifteen years for, but what exactly the kiss means, and the circumstances under which he gets it, are only revealed much later.
       Most remarkably, by allowing the story to unfold this way -- revealing bits and pieces from it, but not necessarily in chronological-narrative order -- Haas takes what is a pretty simple, almost banal story and makes it surprisingly exciting. The dramatic events from the novel would seem almost hackneyed if presented ... the way author and critic describe them as being presented in the (supposed) actual novel, but here the tension and excitement are much greater. By the end you're hanging on every word.
       The dialogue also offers more than the actual story, in that Haas describes how he came to write it, many of the choices he made, and contrasting the 'real' Kowalski (and other characters) with the fictional ones (as Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren is based on 'real' events, Haas having seen Kowalski on Wetten, dass ... ? and been inspired by his story ...). The journalist's take and comments also add more -- and allow for, for example, a variety of commentary on German-Austrian differences (linguistic and otherwise), as the journalist (like Kowalski) is German while Haas (and Anni) are Austrian. Writing itself -- the choices writers make, the words they use, what they leave out -- is constantly at the forefront here, too, yet it never seems too much just about the writing.
       "Verfremdung durch Realismus !" is how the Haas-character describes one scene he's particularly pleased with -- a Brechtian sort of alienation-effect through realism (i.e. shaking the reader up more by using realistic elements than imagined ones) -- and that's really what this work of fiction as a whole pretends to do (pretends, since it only appears 'realistic' (a sober, simple dialogue) when, in fact, it's all entirely fictional (twice over)).
       Haas' success lies in how well he pulls all this off. It sounds far more complicated than it is -- or at least than it reads. Like in an intricate well-designed machine all the pieces are in place, allowing for the smooth functioning of the machinery, to delightful effect. It must have taken great effort to put it together this way, but Haas managed very well.
       Good fun, and a good read. - www.complete-review.com/reviews/austria/haasw1.htm

Wolf Haas’s The Weather Fifteen Years Ago has the dual distinction of being the most obscure title on this year’s Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist and also the most formally experimental. Although before you run away and hide, I should say right now and here that this is also one of the most readable and engaging titles on the longlist—despite its formalist tendencies.
Which, given Haas’s background, makes a bit of sense. Haas is most famous in Austria for his “Detective Brenner” crime novels that “present the exploits of a cantankerous ex-cop plagued by migraines” (according to Thomas S. Hansen’s afterword). The Weather Fifteen Years Ago, originally published in German in 2006, may be his first non-thriller, but the way in which the reader pieces together the plot from the five-day long interview between Wolf Haas and an anonymous female book reviewer, functions sort of like a mystery.
In the novel The Weather Fifteen Years Ago, Wolf Haas is being interviewed about a book he wrote with the same title that is more or less a prolonged story of unrequited love. The novel inside the novel revolves around one Vittorio Kowalski, who appears on a game show to show off his ability to remember what the weather was like in a particular small village in the Austrian Alps every day for the past fifteen years. In and of itself, this is a pretty remarkable, but the Haas of the novel knows that there’s something more to the story . . . Why would a man memorize the weather every day for some podunk town where his family once vacationed? (A: A girl. It’s always a girl.)
From this seemingly innocent, yet oddly compelling story, a whole world unfolds, one that’s both intricate in terms of its plot (there’s a lot more to this little summer love than one initially expects) and in terms of how the interviewer talks with (fictional) Haas about the way the (imaginary) book is written.
I know that sounds confusing, but here’s the opening page just to give you a sense of how easy it is to fall into this book and how many levels this works on:
BOOK REVIEW: Mr. Haas, I’ve been going back and forth for a long time about where I should start.
WOLF HAAS: So have I.
BOOK REVIEW: Unlike you, though, I don’t want to start at the end. Actually—
WOLF HAAS: Strictly speaking, I don’t start at the end either. I start with the first kiss.
BOOK REVIEW: But in a way that’s the whole point of the story you’re telling. Or, the way I see it, the goal toward which everything moves. Speaking strictly chronologically, it belongs at the end of the story. Your hero has been working toward this kiss for fifteen years, and in the end he finally gets it, but you don’t describe this scene at the end. Instead, you prefer to put it right at the opening.
WOLF HAAS: There were actually a few openings I liked better. My problem wasn’t so much the beginning, or how I should start, but where to put the kiss. You can’t just stick it at the end, where it belongs, so to speak. But that would be intolerable. When someone has been waiting for, or as you say, working toward, a kiss for fifteen years, and hten he finally gets it, how are you supposed to describe that?
BOOK REVIEW: While I was reading, I wondered if you were declaring war on the reviewer by moving the conclusion to the first page.
WOLF HAAS: That would have been pushing it too far.
This infamous kiss—described so precisely, clinically in Haas’s imaginary book—is what the Book Reviewer and (fictional) Haas then build to in their interview, and by the time you as a reader actually get there, the weight of the moment is incredible . . .
It’s a lot of fun to puzzle out the various plot points of the imaginary book under discussion, and I’d be interested in hearing from other readers as to whether they think the imaginary book is supposed to be all that well written. The Book Reviewer seems to have a lot of respect for it, and for (fictional) Haas’s writing, but at the same time, there are scenes she describes that seem interminably dry:
BOOK REVIEW: When you read this passage, it’s almost maddening how you describe the wedding guests in such a detailed way. Here, of all places, when all you want to know is if, and how, Vittorio Kowalski escapes, you lose yourself in the artistry of describing Anni’s wedding dress. When it first appeared three days ago, Anni called the color “vanilla.”
WOLF HAAS: Three days and seven hours ago, yes.
BOOK REVIEW: And now it says it was by no means vanilla. And then there follow some digressions about vanilla ice cream at the swimming pool and you even give the price of a scoop of vanilla ice cream at that time.
That’s what makes this book a lot of fun: to imagine the imaginary literary work behind all these allusions and discussions. And (the real) Haas does a marvelous job of making this feel like a genuine conversation. Sure, belief is suspended when you consider the idea of a book reviewer spending five days talking to an author about a single book (not to mention the implausibility of just how precisely she seems to know the book . . .), but still, the conversation flows and as the book progresses, it gets more and more engaging. The “metafictional” frame never distracts from the story. And speaking of the “metafictional” element, I’ll end with a long quote from Hansen’s afterword about this:
All metafiction confronts readers with clearly playful literary experiences. Haas chooses to do more than interrupt a plot line with meta-narrative or digression; he presents the whole narrative in this form. The result produces some intriguing puzzles to engage readers in constructing their own interpretations and even alternative story lines. The often argumentative conversation between the fictional author and the interviewer, in which they disagree about interpretation and even plot, establishes the unreliability of any narrative point of view. “Haas” claims to tell Vittorio Kowalski’s quest for love, and in doing so, he betrays an identification with his character so close that at one point the third person and first person pronouns merge: the narrator’s “he” (describing Kowalski) slips into “I.” To add to this shifting point of view, the time levels in the tale are also porous. The narrated sequence of events does not unfold chronologically but emerges according to the associative vagaries of interviewer and author—and both comment on this fact. Time is almost an exercise in praeteritio, which is driven by disclaimers like “we won’t mention the fact that . . .” or “I’ve cut a certain passage.” These strategies themselves generate new content and propel the reader through various associative digressions toward the dramatic climax.
Definitely worth reading. - Chad W. Post

I have to say, finding a work for Austria was a tricky one in terms of fitting my criteria of a post-1990s setting. Initially, I opted for “On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House” by Peter Handke – one of Austria’s most noted authors. However I was slightly dissatisfied by the fact that this work - whilst starting off in Austria – also encompasses a picaresque journey through a number of European countries during the 1990s. As such, I persevered in my search and am glad that I did, as it brought me to a fascinating novel entitled “The Weather Fifteen Years Ago” by Austrian writer Wolf Haas.    
Wolf Haas – prior to this work, was best known for writing a series of crime novels featuring the character of grumpy ex-detective Brenner, set in Vienna (the city of Haas’ residence). Despite their international acclaim Haas killed off Brenner in book six, and voiced a wish to take a different direction in writing. The result, “The Weather Fifteen Years Ago” is a highly original and affecting work, set in the Austrian holiday resort of Farmach…
Indeed, it is interesting to come across this novel at this stage of my travels as – having just left the Czech Republic with an attempt at a post-modern ‘metafiction’ novel which did not come off, here I believe is a novel with triumphantly succeeds in the genre.
As such “The Weather Fifteen Years Ago” is no conventional narrative. The reader must infer a sensational love story that the real author hasn’t actually written, but which his fictional persona (also called Wolf Haas) describes to an interviewer referred to only as “Book Review”. This takes the form of a play-like dialogue, in which the two discuss the fictional book’s plot and thus reveal the story to the reader.
The real Haas plays several mind-games at once, for the love story begins with an ambiguous kiss between the protagonists who have known each other since childhood. The reader must deduce the mysterious relationships, which zigzag erotically through several characters and two generations. At the core of all this is a sophisticated web of scientific and poetic weather lore.
The prosaic romantic hero of the fictional novel, Vittorio Kowalski, possesses a strange talent: he can remember the weather for every day of the past fifteen years in a village resort in the Austrian Alps called Farmach, where he used to holiday with his family and where he formed a bond with a local girl named Anni. When he is invited to display this uncanny ability on a TV game show, he uncovers memories of his unrequited love for Anni, the accident that led to her father's death, and his own near-fatal experience at the place of their secret childhood meetings. By viewing this TV show, the fictional Wolf Haas becomes intrigued with the back story and, in the course of writing his novel, uncovers a series of revelations which occur both in the past and also in the present, as the adult Vittorio returns to Farmach with dramatic and far-reaching consequences.
As the interview progresses, intricacies of the children’s parents’ stories unfold to reveal a startling erotic entanglement. On the very last day of the fictional transcription, we learn almost everything else.
Without revealing too much of the fictional novel’s plot, I can say that the ‘real’ Wolf Haas uses a fascinating narrative device of the interview with the ‘author’ to tease out the strands of the story in a way which - if told straight, may well have seemed overly melodramatic. As it is, in the use of the structure that he employs, Haas skilfully teases the reader with tid-bits of information about the fictional novel, and it is a testament to his writing that we are kept engrossed in the story arc right to the end (and suffice to say the ‘teasing’ of the reader does not necessarily end at the final page!). Indeed, in the potentially dry format of an interview transcript, Haas writes prose which is truly engaging and affecting – such as where he deconstructs his description of a thunderstorm in the interview whilst simultaneously reconstructing the tension and atmosphere of the portrayal of the storm as described in the novel.
As well as pulling off this literary coup, Haas is also able to include a sub-plot of the literary duelling between the “Book Review” interviewer and the Wolf Haas who is being interviewed (and who, it should be said, is strongly identified with the actual author – to the degree of naming him as the author of the Detective Brenner series). As such, as well as the unfolding of this dramatic story set in the Austrian Alps, we are also treated to an exposition on the relationship between author and literary reviewer. The fact that the reviewer is German is important here; as Haas has in the past been criticised for his use of a narrative style loosely based on the Austrian vernacular (a dialect of German heard on the streets rather than generally used in literature). As such, the literary and social tensions between so-called High German and the vernacular that Haas employs, add to the tension between reviewer and author. This highlights a certain linguistic tension between Germany and Austria - two cultures (as is often said about the UK and the US) who are separated by a common language.
All in all, this is a book that I was not looking forward to – I was concerned that the postmodernist format would make it difficult to engage with. I have in fact found the opposite – this is a wonderful novel that works on two levels – in deconstructing the novel-writing process and in ingeniously presenting an engaging love story set against the evocative backdrop of the beautiful Austrian Alps.
From Austria I make my way to the tiny state of Liechtenstein, courtesy of English writer Charles Connelly and his journal “Stamping Grounds: Exploring Liechtenstein and Its World Cup Dream” which follows the national football team on its unlikely campaign to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, but also depicts his personal observations of this unique European principality.
To be honest, I am going about this leg of the journey in a slightly awkward way – as, for historical and practical reasons, Liechtenstein has no border control with Switzerland, which is the next stop on my journey. Indeed getting to this next stop is no easy matter – Vaduz may be Liechtenstein’s capital, but it boasts neither a train station nor an airport. Fortunately the Liechtenstein Bus service (www.lba.li) takes me from Feldkirch in Vorarlberg (a state in western Austria), through assorted villages to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. A day pass for the bus costs EUR 3.20 or CHF 5.00 – the Swiss Franc (CHF) being the currency in use in Liechtenstein although many shops also accept Euro. Border controls are minimal. To get to Vaduz I have to change buses in Schaan – with the country’s only railway station (Schaan-Vaduz) being a stone’s throw away from the bus station there. I look forward to updating you with my experience of this tiny state (which is also the first ‘non-fiction’ work on my journey since Transnistria!) - 

Wolf Haas, author of the bestselling Detective Brenner mystery series, has won the Austrian Radio Play of the Year Award (1999 and 2000), the 2000 German Thriller Prize, and the 2004 Literature Prize of the City of Vienna. The Weather Fifteen Years Ago received the Wilhelm Raabe Literature Prize of the City of Braunschweig. The author lives in Vienna.

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