Child Story, 1981

The adult

The adult, an Austrian man, a simple parent living in Paris with his young daughter. He is in his late thirties. After the birth of his child, the parents’ marriage breaks up, and the man and his daughter move to Paris. The adult constantly reflects on his relationship to his child and often tends to view her as a kind of symbol of the innocence and spontaneity that he has lost in his own life. One night, he loses his temper and strikes the child. He feels great guilt over his act.

The child

The child, a girl around six years old. She is an average child and must deal with the consequences of her father’s move to Paris. She attends a special school and must learn to make new friends.

Summary

Slow Homecoming is the English title of a collection of three of Handke’s short novels, whose individual titles may be translated as The Long Way Around, The Lesson of Mont-Sainte-Victoire, and Child Story. The three works feature separate plots and characters and different styles. Taken as a group, however, they represent variations on a common theme: the ways in which people view themselves and their place in the world around them.

The Long Way Around tells the story of Sorger, a geologist whose physical journey from Alaska, California, and New York to his home in Europe parallels an inner journey of discovery and self-awareness. At the beginning of the novel, Sorger is a loner who “had done no work expressly useful to anyone” and who “would not have been fit company for anyone”; he tries to comprehend the meaning of existence by obsessively describing the physical world. This approach fails, and Sorger nears a psychological collapse, but eventually he realizes that it is relationships with other people, not his science, that give life its significance. He leaves for home full of confidence and optimism.

The Lesson of Mont-Sainte-Victoire deals with art rather than science, relating the visual art of French painter Paul Cézanne to the literary art of Handke himself. Handke describes his visit to a spot in the Sainte-Victoire mountain range where Cézanne found particular...

(The entire section is 466 words.)

The Novels

Slow Homecoming consists of three, very loosely connected texts—The Long Way Around, The Lesson of Mont-Sainte-Victoire, and Child Story—which are veiled in fiction but remain strongly autobiographical. The various characters in the stories are stylized variations of the author’s persona. The three texts document a spiritual and artistic quest. The first work is a third-person narrative that treats the character of Valentin Sorger, a European geologist who is working above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It consists largely of reflections on art and existence. Sorger lives in a small, primitive Indian village and makes “sketches” of the wild and half-formed landscapes. He feels estranged from the reality of his past. One day, he decides that he must return to his home in Europe.

Sorger first goes to San Francisco, where he has a home. He enters a state of extreme alienation and can barely speak. He is deeply interested in the forms and colors of nature and meditates on landscapes. What he seeks is a vision of some eternal law, a salvation. His sketching becomes a way of orienting himself, of locating himself in reality.

Sorger then flies to Denver to visit a former schoolmate who is a skiing instructor. He learns, however, that the man has just died. After staying a few days, he flies on to New York. He continues to meditate on the eternal law or “Form” that he seeks. There he meets a man named Esch, with whom he has a long and intense conversation. The text ends as he flies back to Europe.

The Lesson of...

(The entire section is 660 words.)