Marlen Haushofer: © Sybille Haushofer, Steyr / Wien

Marlen Haushofer

Marlen Haushofer (1920–1970) was an Austrian author of short stories, novels, radio plays, and children’s books. Her work has had a strong influence on many German-language writers, such as the Nobel Prize–winner Elfriede Jelinek, who dedicated one of her plays to her. The Wall was adapted into the 2012 film, directed by Julian Pölsler and starring Martina Gedeck.

The Wall

Fiction by Marlen Haushofer

Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

While vacationing in a hunting lodge in the Austrian mountains, a middle-aged woman awakens one morning to find herself separated from the rest of the world by an invisible wall. With a cat, a dog, and a cow as her sole companions, she learns how to survive and cope with her loneliness. Allegorical yet deeply personal and absorbing, The Wall is at once a critique of modern civilization, a nuanced and loving portrait of a relationship between a woman and her animals, a thrilling survival story, a Cold War-era dystopian adventure, and a truly singular feminist classic.…
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[This] brutal and absorbing dystopian novel…seems to belong among the gaggle of contemporary books that examine the isolated life in our pandemic era, and it does…But The Wall is also a resonant and realistic account of a widowed, middle-aged woman, disenchanted and depressed with the sum of her days, who is presented with the opportunity to enact what has previously eluded her: a life of her own imagining. In this way, Haushofer’s book is one of the most profoundly feminist works of the past century.
—Naomi Huffman, The Atlantic
Haushofer’s sentences are simple and concise, and full of careful thought. The ideas she expresses are so important that you wonder how you have managed to get by without them. There is something fundamental about The Wall in particular that reaches far beyond the supposed territory of its story. The book is a lesson—and an agonizing one—on how one might come to live among things neglected with cost. That New Directions has recently reissued it with an elegant picture of a cow on the front should be a great event for everyone who cares about literature.
—Missouri Williams, The Nation
Marlen Haushofer’s eerie masterpiece of a woman who gets trapped inside an invisible bubble in the Alps is a predecessor to books like Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy….and it is just as stunning.
—Shane Anderson, Spike Magazine
Nothing short of miraculous.
Chicago Review of Books
What is the wall? An allusion to the Cold War? An allegory for the Berlin Wall? Yes. But it also serves as a metaphorical stand-in for so many restrictions. It creates a situation that allows the main character and the reader to examine our ontology and what we think makes us real.
Kirkus (starred review)
Ceasing to be a human being can mean something literal (death) or something harder to define (a loss of humanity). The Wall is interested in both….Yet the matter of life and death, foregrounded in all its practical details, looms over the novel as more than just a test of self-reliance. The central question of the story is not how to sustain existence but how to understand identity—what it’s really made of, and whether it was made to endure.
—Clare Sestanovich, The Baffler
First published in 1963, The Wall offers a gripping survival story well tuned to today…. [A] remarkable tale of perseverance.
—*The Christian Science Monitor”
The Wall is speculative fiction of a distinctly existential sort, where the subject being speculated on is not what happened to the world, but what happens to reality when society is stripped away…Nothing resolves, yet the book is constantly resonating.
—Martin Riker, The Wall Street Journal
The Wall is a work of surprising emotional power that both haunts and consoles me. Told in a plain, practical style and translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside, it’s an uncanny fable about isolation, despair, the beauty and horror of nature, and the agony of a caretaker who can’t protect her charges. Haushofer’s attentive renderings of animals, plants, weather, and the pleasures of the present enable a steady, sober examination of suffering, existence, death, and the labor of survival.
—Kathryn Scanlan
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