Alone / Together
5th September 2018
Solitude is a theme that brings out a host of other implications, which different authors have explored in different ways, putting more or less stress on one or the other. The most straightforwardly philosophical of the books here are Sartre's Huis Clos, with its infamous "hell is other people", and Michel Tournier's Vendredi, the story of a new Robinson Crusoe that delves deep into the idea of the other, in the sense of any third person, as a vital element in our way of perceiving and living in the world. Both these works, though with very different approaches, stress the importance of others in the way we form our own view of ourselves.
Haushofer and Hegland's novels about women (one and two, respectively) coping in a world where they find themselves alone are both beautiful, unforgettable stories, as much concerned with our relationship to nature as they are with human matters. Hegland has two sisters working together to fend for themselves, which, though it has its difficulties, is surely preferable to total solitude. Haushofer's heroine must make do with her dog, her cat and two cows. A man, in both of these cases, is more often a menace than a blessing.
Markson's experimental book is now a classic (despite going through over fifty rejections from publishers before finding a home at the Dalkey Archive Press). It is again the story of a woman alone, but her struggle is one with memory and with culture, which, as its last custodian, she tries to cling on to with limited success. In all these works solitude is examined as a phenomenon that has something to teach us in our everyday lives, even as we find ourselves surrounded by others.