The premise seems familiar from the abundance of police thrillers on our screens: A man comes in to find his wife sitting at his desk, looking beautiful, but as he moves closer we all realise that the figure at the desk is in fact dead. Here the similarities with all those TV dramas end. Instead of collapsing with grief or calling some sort of official, the husband finds himself reading the last words she was writing. Words of recrimination, words condemning him. Notes in the margin of an old manuscript from the beginning of a novel of his. The husband is compelled to read and he cannot ignore it or answer back:
„Es half nichts, er mußte lesen. Gut, er hätte vielleicht erst einmal die Kinder benachrichtigen sollen. Doch kam es auf ein paar Minuten jetzt noch an? Gut, er hätte einen Arzt holen müssen, damit der den Totenschein ausstellte. (...) Und dann wäre ja wirklich alles vorbeit gewesen (.)“
/ “It didn’t help, he had to read. Yes, perhaps he should have called the children first. But were a few minutes going to make a difference now? Yes, he should have fetched a doctor to write the death certificate. (…) But then everything would truly be over (.)” (my translation)
It is a dark novella, full of Kleistian questions of the ability to communicate truly with another human being. The couple both studied Ancient Chinese philosophy and so there are also questions about the afterlife and belief. Images of an eternal lake we all have to cross once we go are used by the late wife. Unfortunately one of the weaknesses of the English title is that it just cannot capture the beauty of the German word “Jenseits”, meaning the far side, the beyond.
It is a novella concerned with death as the end of a relationship. The husband can no longer communicate, and feels his early novel has been misunderstood as relating to his own promiscuity. He cannot convince his wife Doro of this though because she took the facts in her own interpretation and then passed away.
Not for the faint-hearted, but necessary reading.