Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life

Review by Mrs Archer

Having just returned from the St. Laurence School senior ski trip, I felt inspired to write about one of my favourite books about life in the mountains.

A Whole Life is a contradiction in the greatest sense of the word. A novel that is both vast in scope, yet close and intimate in its portrayal of Andreas Egger, a gentle yet physically toughened man facing a harsh life in the mountains; who watches the 20th century make its mark on the wild and imposing landscape. In a literary world full of 600 page epics, Robert Seethaler has pulled off a miracle in writing a novella that can fit into your back pocket and feel like you are carrying around an entire existence.

Andreas Egger is orphaned as a boy and grows up under the disdain of his uncle, forced to take in his vulnerable but capable nephew. After one beating too many, Andreas is left with a permanent disfigurement but a determination to make his own way in the world. His home however, rarely strays from the mountains that prove both a source of comfort and cruelty. In fact, the mountains are as important a character as Andreas himself: providing friendship, challenge, sustenance, pain, suffering, joy and relief across the whole of his life. Seethaler details the setting with the lightest of touches, never allowing the magnitude of the mountains to overwhelm Andreas as the focus of our attention. They perfectly complement each other.

I am not usually a re-reader of books but I have turned to this many times. The cover of A Whole Life speaks to the side of me that would love to leave the city behind for a simple life in the mountains. Inside is a reminder that although they can feed the soul, they can also be merciless and that a life of quiet solitude is not for the faint-hearted.

I would wholly recommend this novel as a story that combines people and place; humanity and nature seamlessly, and leaves you feeling like you have been let into the secret that a contented life is one of quiet humility.

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