The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

Bookshelf , 30 January 2014

The Post Office Girl / Stefan Zweig

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I spent an afternoon browsing the Persephone bookshop (before it shut – boo hoo) and was cajoled into buying this book by the formidable owner. I’m terribly glad I took her advice – this is a haunting account of a girl called Christine who is living a painfully mundane life in 20s Austria.

When Christine’s wealthy aunt whisks her off to Switzerland she has a taste of the high life and finds it very agreeable, but her luck doesn’t hold and when her impoverished background is discovered, her aunt sends her back to her former life for fear of her less-than-illustrious family hurting her own social status.

‘The vast power of money, mighty when you have it and even mightier when you don’t, with its divine gift of freedom and the the demonic fury it unleashes on those forced to do without it – they felt this as never before and were filled with bitter rage when, in the dark of the early morning, they saw the brightly lit windows and knew that those glowing gold curtains gave shelter and freedom to hundreds of thousands of people… it was cruel, as only the sea could be cruel – the sea in which a person can die of thirst.’

‘There’s an inherent limit to the stress that any material can bear. Water has its boiling point, metals have their melting points. The elements of the spirit behave the same way. Happiness can reach a pitch so great that any further happiness can’t be felt. Pain, despair, humiliation, disgust, and fear are no different. Once the vessel is full, the world can’t add to it.’

‘And when at eight in the morning Christine sat down, she was tired – tired not from something achieved and accomplished, but tired in anticipation of everything ahead, the same faces, the same questions, the same chores, the same money.’

The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, £5.83 at Foyles.co.uk

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