Thursday, 18 December 2014

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig Review


Set in a 1920s Austrian hotel resort, Edgar is 12 years old when the randy young Baron enters his life vying for his attention – except The Baron’s not really interested in him but his hot mom! When Edgar realises he’s been used, he acts as the ultimate cockblocker and realises profound things about childhood and adulthood on the cusp of adolescence. You’d think he’d be pleased he wasn’t going to be molested, eh? That’s upper class Austrian kids from the early 20th century for you!

Stefan Zweig wrote very thoughtful humanistic stories that uncannily captured moods and emotions on the page, and he more or less does that in Burning Secret. I kind of understand Edgar’s sense of betrayal because at that age you are very guileless and wear your emotions very openly. It’s not until you’ve been put through the emotional wringer a few times as a teenager that you emerge as an “adult” at the end and that experience is what Zweig’s writing about. 

I liked how easily Zweig switched between characters without dropping a beat. One minute he’s writing from the Baron’s perspective, the next Edgar’s, without paragraph or chapter breaks and without any confusion from the reader as to who they were reading. Zweig was nothing if not a supremely talented writer and, though he’s literary, he’s very accessible, even to modern readers. 

That said, I wasn’t drawn in to Burning Secret like I was in his other books like Chess. It’s a predictable story once Edgar plans on getting in the way of his mother and the Baron’s budding affair so the story becomes dull once it settles into its rhythm, and the “lesson” Edgar learns is fairly unenlightening to grown-up readers, who’re really the only audience I see for this writer. 

Mostly though, and as unintellectual a critique as it is, Burning Secret was boring. It wasn’t intense or exciting, mysterious or interesting, or much of anything. Well written, yes, but still very easy to put down. Zweig’s Chess story is a much better read over the lacklustre Burning Secret.

Burning Secret

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