Fear by Stefan Zweig
Publication: January 5th 2010 by Pushkin Collection
Format: Paperback Pages: 112
Finding her comfortable bourgeois existence as wife and mother predictable after eight years of marriage, Irene Wagner brings a little excitement into it by starting an affair with a rising young pianist. Her lover’s former mistress begins blackmailing her, threatening to give her secret away to her husband. Irene is soon in the grip of agonizing fear.
Written in the spring of 1913, and first published in 1920, this novella is one of Stefan Zweig’s most powerful studies of a woman’s mind and emotions.
La Paura (1954) the Roberto Rossellini film based on the Stefan Zweig novel Fear was the last of the extraordinary features in which Rossellini directed Ingrid Bergman, who was then his wife.
Pushkin Collection editions feature a spare, elegant series style and superior, durable components. The Collection is typeset in Monotype Baskerville, litho-printed on Munken Premium White Paper and notch-bound by the independently owned printer TJ International in Padstow. The covers, with French flaps, are printed on Colorplan Pristine White Paper. Both paper and cover board are acid-free and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. – Goodreads.
Fear is a brilliantly written novella with incredible depth. I read this beauty in one sitting (seriously, the Pushkin Press edition is gorgeous). My edition was around 100 or so pages long, so it really was a quick and easy read.
Fear was my first Zweig, and it’s definitely not going to be my last. The narrative was so rich and intense that Irene’s anguish and paranoia leapt out of the pages, I could feel the way her affair was eating her up inside, and her suffocation was masterfully portrayed through the Zweig’s vivid descriptions. As far as translations go, I think Anthea Bell did a great job because, despite it being a translation, the narrative was powerful.
I’d argue the protagonist is not Irene but rather fear itself. As a character, Irene is not likeable. Up until the point where she becomes consumed by fear, Irene is an absent mother, a shadow of a wife and someone who is so entirely self-absorbed that she’s incapable of considering the consequences her reckless actions will yield. I can’t sympathise with cheaters no matter what their excuse is, so I didn’t care about Irene at all. The stages of fear experienced by Irene were fascinating, and they swept me away. Which is why I have given such a high rating, I was fully absorbed in the book!
Irene’s husband was interesting, and I felt sad for him, the ending, in particular, was spectacular, and I’ll leave it at that to prevent spoiling it!
There are a few twists and turns in the story but it is rather predictable, I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who likes a surprising plot. Instead, Fear is the kind of novella I’d recommend to people interested in digging deep and exploring the psyche in a more abstract way.