The Wall by Marlen Haushofer is a brilliant dystopian novel about a woman who wakes up to find discover an invisible partition (a wall, literally) between herself and the outside world. Every human on the outside appears to be dead, and she is left on her own with a dog, a cat, and a cow.
When I first began reading this novel, I assumed that the narrator would recount a Robinson Crusoe-like story of struggle, survival and redemption. As I went further into the story, though, I realized that this was a more honest account about the experience of isolation and dependency. The narrator survives by planting crops, by hunting with a dwindling supply of ammunition, and by milking her cow, Bella. She relies on her animals for companionship and food; likewise, they rely on her to provide shelter and care.
Throughout the novel, though, the reader catches glimpses of what is to come — or at least what we imagine is to come. We know that the narrator’s matches will soon run out; that she will outlive her animals; that the blade on her axe will dull or perhaps break. We know that the narrator herself will continue to age.
The Wall is a difficult and heart-breaking read precisely because the story is constructed so well. I felt lost at times in the narrator’s solitude. I grappled with larger questions that the book raises about what it means to survive and be human.
Next book on my list: Ebony & Ivy by Craig Steven Wilder