IlseIlse Aichinger's The Bound Man

commentary by rbadac


A slim volume of dreamlike stories with an indescribable poetic quality. Jessica mentions it in her Recommended Reading list in What Did Miss Darrington See? (Feminist Press, 1989); it rarely receives notice elsewhere... this means you might conceivably find it, like I did, at a used bookstore for a dollar, since no one has a handle on it.

Says here on the jacket that she was born in Vienna in 1921, studied to be a doctor but never completed her training (whatever that implies; there is no further explanation), married the Austrian poet Gunther Eich in 1952, & won the Austrian state prize for literature that same year.

Not all the stories are supernatural, but enough are to merit dealing with the book as a whole. I took notes. Whether they illuminate anything for you or not is for you to decide. Really, you probably have to be there.

"The Bound Man"

A man comes to in the countryside somewhere to discover that he has been robbed & tied up. The rope is only tight enough to restrict his movements to a minimum; it seems to liberate him in a weird fashion, and he joins a circus as The Bound Man, & spends the summer entertaining the patrons & exploring his new world of restraint. One of the more unusual tales you are likely to read ever, unless you are a fan of Pauline or Gwendolyn.

"The Opened Order"

After waiting for headquarters to direct their advance upon the enemy, soldiers send one of their number to deliver a message there. He is sent back with a sealed order which he opens & reads en route, which states that the bearer is to be shot. What would you do?

"The Advertisement"

In the act of putting up another bill, the bill-sticker on the ladder says, apropos of nothing, "You're not going to die." He himself has no idea who he is saying this to; the railway station is deserted, except for the mother & her little girl down at the other end.

The boy in the advertisement has his mouth open in laughter, his arms upraised; he advertises a holiday camp at the seaside:

"...The boy had no idea what dying meant, but something like a wish flared up in him. Perhaps dying meant playing ball & being able to move your arms; perhaps it meant plunging into the sea, or asking questions; or perhaps it meant jumping out of the advertisement-- no, he'd got it, dying meant not having another bill stuck over you..."
At that time of day, trains were as infrequent as if they had mistaken midday for midnight. The little girl wants him to dance.

"The Private Tutor"

Father & Mother have gone out for an hour. They have told him not to open the door to anyone except the tutor. When the tutor arrives, they read awhile, then they play a game. The tutor loses. The parents come home just in time.

"Angel In The Night"

"You sleep too long," said his sister, who sees the angels. By the time he awakes, they are always gone. And when he has believed in them for too long he confronts her with the lie, demands that she swear to their existence-- & she cannot swear.

"...Her army had been beaten without even making itself visible, but mine had been visibly beaten; & while my army, stricken with terror at the frozen void of a hostile land, retreated & senselessly took to flight, hers lay wounded in deep woods, a paralysed army which made not the slightest attempt to defend itself, an army bleeding to death, the defeated host of the angels. But between the trampling of the fleeing footsteps & the forgotten forest unsuspecting shepherds started pasturing their flocks..."

"Story in a Mirror"

The girl is born, grows up, loves, suffers, dies. If one's whole life passes before one's eyes, which direction does it take? And are the lessons one learns the same ones, or different ones entirely?

"Moon Story"

The most beautiful girl on Earth dislikes the title "Miss Earth"; yet she cannot be given the title "Miss Universe" without giving the rest of the Universe a chance, so they send her to the Moon, where, oddly, there is competition.

"Window Entertainment"

Woman looking out her window sees a most peculiar man across the way looking out his. She ends up calling the police. I thought this was pretty funny.

"Ghosts On The Lake"

The man whose motorboat engine will not stop running (which means he cannot land), the woman who doesn't dare to remove her sunglasses for fear of fading away, the three girls who perpetually giggle at the steamer deckhand.

"Speech Under The Gallows"

Just what it says it is, the last words of a man who is about to be hanged. A strange death: he was sentenced to die, not for murder or treason or any like crime, but for setting fire to barns & haylofts. Yet in his poetic speech he is unrepentant. And during his speech, his sentence appears to be commuted -- but is it?

copyright 2000 by rbadac, all rights reserved


See also Jessica's addendum
About Ilse Aichinger

Weird fiction in translation spices up the
Catalog of Vintage Weird Fictions For Sale

Return to The Weird Review Index



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