(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Swan Villa is yet another of Martin Walser’s novels dealing with the mid-life crisis of an unexceptional male character. For Gottlieb Zürn, a real estate agent, the crisis is exacerbated not by ill fortune—this he is able to ignore—but by an exceptional opportunity that forces him to realize his hidden hopes and fears. Such a bourgeois conformist and opportunist would be the perfect object of satire and scorn, as evidenced in the works of Heinrich Mann (and even the young Walser), for example. Yet here the reader is given a sympathetic portrait of the everyday concerns of a relatively successful citizen in modern West Germany. His problems and fears are trivial on a global scale, yet they are representative of so many and are presented so intimately and credibly that the reader can understand, and even sympathize with, the hapless “hero.”

From the outset, Gottlieb’s family seems to be collapsing around him. His daughters are troubled: Rosa is pregnant by an irresponsible filmmaker, Magda is apathetic, Julia is rebelling, and Regina is suffering from a protracted, and increasingly serious, undiagnosable illness. Moreover, the dog is failing obedience school. Gottlieb’s wife, Anna, is so preoccupied with these domestic problems that she cannot muster any enthusiasm for her conjugal duties.

Amid the rising chaos of his domestic life, Gottlieb Zürn suddenly has the professional opportunity of his lifetime: to gain the exclusive listing to a splendid art-nouveau property, the Swan Villa, on the shores of Lake Constance....

(The entire section is 641 words.)