Post Office Girl : Stefan Zweig's Grand Hotel Novel Paperback
by Stefan Zweig
It's the 1930s. Christine, A young Austrian woman whose family has been impoverished by the war, toils away in a provincial post office.
Out of the blue, a telegram arrives from an American aunt she's never known, inviting her to spend two weeks in a Grand Hotel in a fashionable Swiss resort.
She accepts and is swept up into a world of almost inconceivable wealth and unleashed desire, where she allows herself to be utterly transformed.
Then, just as abruptly, her aunt cuts her loose and she has to return to the post office, where - yes - nothing will ever be the same.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288 pages
- Publisher: Sort of Books
- Publication Date: 15/01/2009
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780954221720
- EPUB from £2.80
Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.
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Review by hazelk
The novel is set in the aftermath of the First World War in Austria: The Austro-Hungarian Empire is no more and for the average citizen life is tough with high prices and shortages.The post office girl of the title is Christine, a twenty-something postmistress in a remote village miles from Vienna. She leads a life of routine, of penny-pinching economies, supporting her widowed mother: she has never been in love nor even had a boyfriend. Out of the blue she is given the opportunity by wealthy American relatives to spend a fortnight with them in a grand hotel in Switzerland, all expenses paid. In a Cinderella-like fashion they supply her with fine new clothes (so that neither she nor they are shown up), pay for her to have a more flattering hair-do etc. She is soon transformed from a gauche young woman to a confident one, excited by the admiring looks of men, by fine dining, by luxury. But Zweig is not a writer of romances: even before the end of Part One we know that no white knight will sweep her off her feet and take her from a life of drudgery. Part Two is much darker in tone. And unfortunately, without giving the plot away, the writing is less good: whereas in Part One the descriptions were powerful and alive with great psychological insights, Part Two is worthy but rather boring: there are great long sections of declamatory speech by Ferdinand who she has met in Vienna, a confused embittered radical.Only when I read the afterword did I realise why the book wasn’t published until 1982, forty years after the author’s suicide.
Review by blackhornet
The first page had me hooked. I thought I was going to get a classic modernist take on Germany between the wars. Thereafter, however, the writing was leaden, the narrative dull.
Review by msf59
It’s post World War I Austria. Christine works in a provincial post office. She is only in her mid-20s but is all-ready feeling the weight and dreariness of the middle-aged. She’s unmarried and shares a gloomy hovel with her disabled mother. She has no friends and no social life. One day, she receives a telegram from her wealthy Aunt. An invitation to join them in a mountain resort in Switzerland. Christine accepts and finds herself transformed, thrown into a world of luxury, romance and opulence. Unfortunately, this only lasts a short time and she suddenly finds herself disgraced and sent back home, where her life will never be the same again.This is the second book I’ve read by Zweig, who died tragically, nearly seventy years ago and what an amazing find he is. His prose is vibrant and impassioned, leaving the reader yearning for more. Highly recommended.
Review by keylawk
In this historical fiction set in 1926, we are introduced to Christine Hoflehner, a young postal clerk in the Austrian village of Klein-Reifling. The war has taken her father, her brother, her best prospects for marriage, and her laughter. She lives in a damp, cold attic with her rheumatic mother. The gloom of her days is broken by a telegram from her aunt Claire, gone to America years before. Claire is now rich, and she invites her niece to join her at an elegant resort in Switzerland. Clutching her straw suitcase, Christine creeps into the grand hotel, and promptly finds herself transformed physically--by hairdressers and Claire's wardrobe--and in the shift of class expectation, by the wand of chance and misunderstanding. Her invitation into high society was a happy coincidence of her own emergence as an attractive young woman. She dances, takes rides in roadsters, and is courted by gentlemen. Just as life seems to pull her into its fullness, a jealous acquaintance discovers the pretense. Fearing exposure of her own long-dead secrets, Claire sends Christine and her straw suitcase, packing. Back in the village, Christine's prospects seem even more dismal for the certainty she has of what she has missed. But this is just the beginning. The novel moves out of the grand hotel, to the sleepy village, and then toward a more complex counterpoint of social spheres. Christine visits her sister Nelly's family in Vienna. Her sister's chubby mercantile husband introduces her to Ferdinand, his comrade from the war who spent years in a Siberian prison camp, only to return to a country that no longer had any use for him. His family favors evaporated in the hyperinflation, and his instant poverty is insured by injuries which specifically disable him from his pursuit of architecture. When Ferdinand pours out the bitterness of his heart, Christine recognizes a kindred spirit. Yet, their relations never become obvious. There is no "happily" or even "love", but it is by no means incomplete. Their lives are deeply described and rooted in a historical context. We come to appreciate what war does to people, to a whole generation. The two souls cling to each other, but this does not make them less immune to the withered circumstances in which they live. At the end, the couple contemplate suicide, and then, almost unintentionally, conspire to commit a serious felonious theft. In the insightful Afterword, William Deresiewicz notes: "The narrative terminates at the conclusion of a scene, and on a thematically significant word." That word, pregnant with Joycean revenance in the mouth of a woman, is "Yes". The Nazis destroyed the European civilization achieved in the Austro-Hungarian humanist movement. Herr Zweig provides a clear window on the golden age of Viennese cafe society at the turn of the century. The author received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1915 and was arguably the most prolific, popular and widely-known author of his day. He seems to have read widely and wrote as if on a mission to preserve civilization as doom descended upon it. Zweig escaped the camps but his death in 1942 in Brazil was a double-suicide with his wife, and is portended in this novel, published in Germany as "Rausch der Verwandlung" [Intoxication of Transformation] after his death.
Review by RidgewayGirl
This is Stefan Zweig's last novel. Christine lost the best years of her life to the First World War, which began when she was just 16 and which also took her father, her brother, her family's wealth and her mother's health. Through connections, she manages to find a job as a post office clerk in an isolated village. The salary, barely adequate for one, is stretched to also care for her mother and means that they live as unwelcome tenants in a damp attic room. Now in her late twenties, Christine lives a quiet life, until an aunt and uncle, visiting from America, invites her to stay with with them in a Swiss resort town. Christine blossoms under the care and luxury of this alien life. She dances and laughs with witty, well-dressed men and discovers a new way of looking at life, but eventually and too soon, she returns to her old life as the post office girl and finds that she can't return to her earlier acceptance of her straightened circumstances.<i>The Post Office Girl</i> is beautifully written and so perfectly captures Christine's inner feelings as she moves from blind acceptance to elation to a clear-eyed awareness of the bleakness of her life. The War to End All Wars destroyed more than young men's lives and the economic depression that followed robbed many of all hope, while the well-off danced, blithely unaware of the suffering around them. I'd expected this to be a serious and somewhat dour read, but found instead an impossible to put down novel about a vibrant woman destroyed by circumstances beyond her control. It's not a feel-good story, but it's also not without hope and the ending was pitch perfect and occurred at the right moment.
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