The End of Loneliness
Translated by Charlotte Collins
Penguin Books 2019
A mournful, tragic family saga written by German novelist Benedict Wells and translated by Charlotte Collins, “The End of Loneliness” follows lives of three children during a 30-year period beginning in 1980 after their parents die in an automobile accident
The narrator is Jules Moreau, the youngest who at age eleven is separated from siblings Marty and Liz at a German boarding school where they had been placed by their aunt after their parents’ death. Marty, the oldest, is boarded in a different area of the school where his eccentric behavior and curiosity allow him to survive. Liz meanwhile feels totally abandoned, and resorts to drugs and sex to fulfill her emptiness.
Jules becomes unsociable, withdrawn and guilt-ridden for not loving his father enough and desperately yearning for his mother. Finally, a red-haired girl, Alva, also a student at the school befriends Jules, who falls insanely in love with her. After boarding school, he desperately wants Alva to move in with him, but she has other plans.
As adults, the siblings take different career paths. Jules fails as a photographer and decides he is writer. Marty is a successful computer programmer, while Liz becomes a teacher though she’s unable to abandon her destructive lifestyle. After several years when Jules reconnects with his sister, he ponders, Liz “always seemed to only ever live in the present, and forgot a lot of things, whereas I liked to spend a long time contemplating my experiences and thinking about how to classify them.”
. . . absorbing, tragic and tender.
In subsequent years, the siblings attempt to reconcile. Liz and Jules remain angry that Marty failed to take care of them, while Liz is resentful about being abandoned. Marty, whose venture into computer programing is financially successful, earns a doctorate, becomes a professor and is able to support his siblings financially and emotionally. When Jules reconnects with Alva, he laments, “Time isn’t linear; nor is memory. You always remember more clearly things you’re emotionally close to at any given moment.”
Although this tear-jerker novel deals with familiar humanistic themes of love, life and death, Wells’ prose is crisp and honest, with haunting, introspective emotional views. The result is absorbing, tragic and tender.