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Peter Handke: Die linkshändige Frau (The Left-Handed Woman)

This is, on the surface, an apparently simple tale. The Woman,as Handke constantly refers to her, even though she has a name – Marianne – is married to Bruno and they have a son, Stefan. Bruno is in Finland on business. He returns home. They go out to dinner and, on the way back, Marianne tells him that she is leaving him, without any warning and without any obvious reason. At first, he is unsure whether she means just for a few minutes or for good. However, it is for good. They separate. The rest of the novel Marianne just goes on with her life. She resumes her profession of translator, translating from French to German (she starts with Flaubert’s Un coeur simple). Not much else happens. The publisher keeps coming round, hoping to resume a relationship that might have occurred ten years previously. Stefan does what eight year old boys normally do. She visits Bruno in his office and he, in turn, comes around and is abusive. She goes to see her father, a former writer, but he has apparently given up writing. During all of this, Marianne remains passive. She remains calm and unflustered when Bruno shouts at her. She resists the publisher’s advances, more out of indifference than for any other reason. Though she takes charge of her own life, she seems content to let everything happen around her, while others react, show emotion, do things. The final scene is a party at her house. While others drink, dance, chat, Marianne is content to let everything happen around her, clearing up the things at the end, and congratulating herself on remaining her own woman.

Handke wrote and directed a film of the book and, apparently, wrote the book with a film in mind. Like the book, the film is bleak but eerily beautiful. Both book and film merit careful study.

Publishing history

First published in German 1976 by Suhrkamp
First English translation 1978 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux