A novel about survival, self-reliance, and art, by Peter Stamm, finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize
All Days Are Night is the story of Gillian, a successful and beautiful TV host, content with her marriage to Matthias, even if she feels restless at times. One night following an argument, the couple has a terrible car accident: Matthias, who is drunk, hits a deer on the wet road and dies in the crash. Gillian wakes up in the hospital completely disfigured. Only slowly, after many twists and turns, does she put her life back together, and reconnects with a love interest of the past who becomes a possible future—or so it seems. In Stamm’s unadorned and haunting style, this new novel forcefully tells the story of a woman who loses her life but must stay alive all the same. How she works everything out in the end is at once surprising and incredibly rewarding.
About Peter Stamm
Peter Stamm was born in 1963, in Weinfelden, Switzerland. He is the author of the novel, Agnes (1998), and numerous short stories and radio plays. He lives outside of Zurich.
A conversation with Peter Stamm author of All Days Are Night
Other Press: The plot of All Days Are Night is deceptively simple. How did this story come to you? What made you want to write about a woman’s reconstruction of her life after an event that could have destroyed it?
Peter Stamm: Twenty years ago I wrote a novel with a similar theme: whether we are who we are playing, or who we are when we undress and show ourselves naked. Unfortunately it failed. What interested me in All Days Are Night was the relationship between our interior and our exterior, so I needed a character whose appearance changes from one moment to the next. Or even better: a character who has no exterior, no face for a while. An accident was the easiest way to create such a character. Of course we all change our appearance over time, but it’s normally a slow process and we gradually adapt to our faces growing older, our hair turning gray. The whole book is about images we make from ourselves and from others, true and fake images. That’s where the painter comes in.
OP: Gillian’s disfigurement and the reconstruction of her face are incredibly formative moments in her life, and you describe both events with startling clarity. Was it difficult to inhabit Gillian’s mind after her accident?
PS: It’s the job of writers to imagine other people’s states of mind. But in this case I did have help from a woman who was disfigured as a child and whose face never was completely reconstructed. (Her accident happened when plastic surgery was in its infancy.) She became a psychotherapist and had very good insight into what happened to her in the years of her healing. When I showed her my half-finished novel, she confirmed quite a few of my imagined scenes but also helped me with things I had gotten wrong.
OP: All Days Are Night is told from Gillian’s point of view as well as Hubert’s. Why was it important for Hubert’s experiences to take such a central place in the novel?
PS: I think we expect artists to see below the surface, that their images be truer than the photos in a magazine. Hubert tries to see the essence of Gillian, but he doesn’t succeed. Maybe there is no essence of a person. We are continually changing. A true image would probably have to be blurred. I still think it’s interesting to have Hubert’s point of view, to see how he tries to paint Gillian. In addition he somehow also loses his face by going through an artistic crisis. A painter who doesn’t paint is not a painter anymore. His self-image is also in danger.
OP: When we meet Hubert in the second part of the novel, we find that he’s in the midst of a creative crisis, at an impasse that Gillian seems to have found her way through. Do you think destruction is important for an artist?
PS: Not necessarily destruction but uncertainty. I don’t think you can make art or write literature just with your skills. You have to take risks and you have to fail from time to time. It’s the only way to get on. Even today, after more than ten books, some of my texts fail. And every time I start a new novel I think, “How can I do it, how can I ever write a book?” I’m completely helpless. Sometimes I don’t write for months, trying to figure out how to start. And then, sometimes, I take off and it works. I don’t want to mystify the process, but there is a certain amount of magic in it.
OP: You’ve mentioned before how translation is more important for readers than it is for writers. How do readers benefit from reading literature from a multiplicity of countries? How has reading from countries outside of Switzerland shaped your writing? Considering the importance of translation, how has it been to work with a translator as well regarded as Michael Hofmann?
PS: I couldn’t have read half of the books I have if they hadn’t been translated. Literature was always translated; it’s our best means to understand people from other countries, other times, to widen our worldview. What would the Romans have been without reading the ancient Greek texts? We can only learn from other literatures. A literature that is not open to the world gets complacent and doesn’t develop.
Michael Hofmann is very easy to work with. He does not ask many questions and just does a wonderful job. After having translated all my books he knows my work probably as well as I do. He understands what I’m after. And, perhaps most important, he likes my books, if that’s not too vain to say.
"Stamm's careful, pared-down narrative, translated from German with great suppleness by Michael Hofmann, stops to notice all mirrors, all reflective surfaces or cameras, anything and anyone involved in visually representing the world. How can you see, Stamm's novel asks, when everyone is looking at you? How can you make art under that kind of pressure?" —The New York Times Book Review
"[A] complex, psychological tale...riveting...intensely moving." —The Wall Street Journal
"[An] engrossing story of recovery." —The New Yorker
"A postmodern riff on The Magic Mountain...a page-turner." —The Atlantic
"This brief volume speaks eloquently about recovery and reinvention." —Publishers Weekly
"All Days Are Night air[s] the psychological implications of our beauty obsession and the insidious ways in which it can obscure selfhood." —The New Republic
"A slim novel filled with big ideas about art and identity." —Kirkus
"A tour de force [that] concern[s] itself with the mutability of identity. Stamm eschews middlebrow concerns of plot and resolution...his narrative is centered on the ruptures in his main characters’ lives and their consequences. ...All Days Are Night recuperates one of the biggest themes any novelist can tackle with austere, formal brilliance." —Financial Times
"Stamm...gives this well-worn set-up real energy...His prose, in a crystalline translation by Michael Hofmann, is as sharply illuminating as a surgical light. ...A profound and mysterious book." —The Economist
"Stamm transmutes turmoil into form." —The Times Literary Supplement
"Brilliantly translated by Michael Hofmann...Stamm perceives that grief is insane and horrifying, a nightmare that does not need to be emphasised." —Literary Review
"A brilliant, bruising tale of shattered lives." —The Independent
“In a moment, our lives can change, our identities can vanish; if we are to live, we must re-form ourselves. In his elegantly-written and profound new novel, Peter Stamm investigates and tracks how one such self is reconfigured with scraps of an old life while moving-by-feel into a new one. With beautiful clarity, realism and compassion, All Days are Night takes us deep into a psyche-in-transition; the result is a revelatory novel that probes our most closely-held assumptions about how to live in this world.” —Michelle Huneven, author of Off Course
"Everything Peter Stamm turns his hand to is highly disturbing, acutely perceptive, and unfathomably gripping, and All Days Are Night is no exception. In sentences that are plain and surgical, in prose that has about it a disquieting stillness, he dissects our fractured lives. A masterpiece of disorientation and control, All Days Are Night may be his best novel yet." —Rupert Thomson, award-winning author of The Insult and This Party's Got to Stop
"All Days Are Night is a gracious variation on a bitter theme, and one in which the author's clarity of style comes to seem part of the cure: like a balsam, it soothes the characters' sufferings, and helps them back into their lives." —Spiegel Online
"Stamm keeps his tenderly misanthropic gaze riveted on his unhappy protagonists. He is like a gentler version of the young Houellebecq." —Hans-Peter Kunisch, Süddeutsche Zeitung
"Stamm is somehow able to imbue his accounts of ordinary lives and universal frustrations with such tension that the books become unputdownable." —Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“A book that makes life seem worth living again.” —Denis Scheck, ARD
"A delicate variation on a bitter theme—[Stamm's] linguistic clarity is instrumental in this story of salvation. With the power of a restorative it brings the characters back to life" —Der Spiegel
"Haunting and wonderfully consoling." —Cosmopolitan Germany
"Astonishing... [Stamm], with his agile mind and his receptiveness to contemporary trends, has once more succeeded in depicting the zeitgeist with an astounding precision." —Weltwoche
"Stamm produces writing of psychological acuity and great intensity." —Saechsische Zeitung
Praise for Seven Years:
“Seven Years is a novel to make you doubt your own dogma. What more can a novel do than that?” —Zadie Smith, Harper’s Magazine
“With a patient and impressive commitment to realism, this Swiss novel follows the course of a complicated, troubled marriage…Though Stamm pulls off a quietly spectacular plot twist halfway through the book, he never loses sight of the quotidian things that erode or transform relationships over time.” —New Yorker
“Stamm’s cleverness is to align a spareness that works in translation with his characters’ instinctive fear of all things rich and intense. Lean as it is, his prose is wonderfully ‘literary’ in its fine integration of voice and story. The constant disorientation of his characters, their sense that their lives are interchangeable with any number of other lives, seem peculiarly suited to this era of globalization.” —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books
“Stamm is a master of quietly deliberative stories. In Seven Years, as in the best of his work, he puts often simple-seeming characters through extraordinary paces, all the more remarkable given the Carver-like restraint he exercises in his writing.” —Bookforum
About the Book
All Days Are Night Reading Group Guide
1. Describe the sense of alienation and displacement Gillian experiences—from her body, her home, her family, and her past decisions. Do you think these experiences are brought about by her disfigurement, or were they there even before her accident? How does Gillian’s relationship with her body change over the course of the novel?
2. What is Gillian’s relationship with invisibility? Think of her game as a child (p 9), her position as a public figure recognized for her beauty and the effect that has on her relationship with Matthias, the floor-length windows in her apartment, and her moving to her parents’ vacation home.
3. On page 68 Hubert tells Gillian, “This isn’t a photo shoot. Can’t you just look normal? As if you were alone?” What is Gillian’s relationship to the male gaze? Are there ever moments in the narrative when she is free of it?
4. What is the significance of Gillian’s training as an actress? In what ways is she put on display even when she is not at work? Who else is put on display in the novel, and what relationship does Gillian have with them?
5. On page 77 we learn, “She couldn’t account for what it was about Hubert that attracted her.” Why do you think Gillian is attracted to Hubert?
6. What effect does the change in point of view have on your reading experience?
7. On page 132 Jill says, “That’s a frightening thought, isn’t it, that you’re capable of killing someone with your art.” How does art influence and inform Gillian and Hubert’s lives? How does your understanding of Hubert’s art change when the narrative changes to his point of view?
8. What is the difference between the two times Hubert sketches Gillian?
9. Does Gillian or Hubert experience “lived moments[s]” (p 147)? What brings about these moments? How do they differ for each character?
10. Why do you think Gillian returns again and again to moments from her childhood?