The agony of self-discovery has been a theme throughout the career of Max Frisch, the most internationally celebrated of contemporary Swiss novelists. Frisch was an architect before he turned to writing, but his most recent books have been appropriate to the deconstructionist Zeitgeist. Shunning the amplitude of his earliest fictions, his recent works—including Montauk: Eine Erzählung (1975; Montauk, 1976), Der Mensch ersheint im Holozän (1979; The Man in the Holocene, 1980), and Triptychon (1978; Triptych, 1981)—have been increasingly austere and lacerating probes into the deceptions that constitute an individual identity. The austerity and reductiveness of these works have provoked comparisons to Samuel Beckett.
Frisch has continued to practice this spare style in Bluebeard (published in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1982 as Blaubart), which is cast entirely in dialogue form, that of a personal inquisition. After the strangulation of Rosalinde Zogg, his sixth wife, whom he had divorced, Felix Schaad is arrested and tried for the brutal murder. He spends a total of 291 days in detention before the verdict is rendered: acquittal because of “insufficient evidence”—a phrase that echoes in Schaad’s troubled brain. The novel begins some months after the fifty-four-year-old doctor’s release, but he is condemned to replay the trial in his mind, this time augmented by harsher interrogation and by the testimony of his dead parents and of the victim herself. Herr Doktor Felix Theodor Schaad is a specialist in internal medicine, but he is unable to cure his own personal torments.
Bluebeard, then, is no ordinary whodunit. Despite the judicial finding of not guilty, much circumstantial evidence implicates Schaad in the crime. He had been obsessed with the sexual fidelity of Rosalinde, who after the divorce became a prostitute. He did visit her apartment on Saturday, February 8, the day of the homicide, and it is possible that the murder weapon was his own necktie. Schaad, who has been diagnosed as an alcoholic with paranoid tendencies, tries to allay his anxieties through travel and through...
(The entire section is 903 words.)