‘The Loft’ by Marlen Haushofer

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‘I am good at suppression, out of long practice; had I not mastered the art my life would have turned to chaos. I have married a bourgeois man, ran a bourgeois household and must behave accordingly’.

The Loft by Marlen Haushofer, Pg.39

In a similar vein to Jill Alexander Essbaum’s novel, Hausfrau, The Loft by Marlen Haushofer also describes the situation of a very isolated and lonely housewife, this time set in a nondescript Austrian town. Haushofer captures beautifully the banality of everyday life – one that the narrator, who is now approaching her late forties, has found a myriad of ways to cope through.

The narrative begins right in the heart of domesticity – the marriage bed. The protagonist and her husband are disagreeing over the birds that inhabit a tree they can see from their bedroom window – a light-hearted argument they seem to have had on numerous occasions over the years. Despite their friendly, lukewarm behaviour towards one another there is a fissure that has steadily been growing between them for decades.

‘I think of the words human beings use to one another, and I remember Hubert’s tenderness during our nights together. And I remember how we used to laugh. I am too corrupted now for all that; even if I should hear again it would never be the same as before. Separating us lie whole tracts of experience that I have been through alone and about which I could never tell him’.

The Loft by Marlen Haushofer, Pg.139

One average, monotonous day a yellow package unexpectedly arrives in the narrator’s postbox. The woman recognises it and understands that more will arrive, but for now she must carry out her daily duties – duties that will take her mind off the necessary, though personal, task of facing and ‘liquidating’ her past. It is in the loft – her sacred place where she attempts over and over to draw a bird that is not the only bird in the world – where she revisits this difficult time in her life through the diary she had written all those years ago.

Shortly after the narrator gives birth to her first child she experiences an unexplained period of deafness. A dark period that leads her husband – Hubert – to send her away for recuperation in the hope that she will fully recover. Although it is not entirely clear whether it is the woman’s own idea or her husband’s, it is the complete assimilation into the expected norms of a middle-class, bourgeois household that strike a chord with the reader. Whether the narrator wants to go or not is not important, it is that fact that she feels that she has to – she ‘must behave accordingly’, and the only sensible thing she can do is remove herself as a burden to her family.

‘I thought then that all would be well again because I could still cry. And all might have been well if Hubert had cried with me. But he’s a man, of course, and ever since he was a small boy he has been trained not to. If, of a couple, only one person cries, nothing good can come of it, there can be no real deliverance from evil’.

The Loft by Marlen Haushofer, Pg.58

There is no real anger in the narrator’s voice. Whether she ever felt anger in her life is not clear, but what does come across overwhelmingly is her resignation. She is resigned to her fate as a housewife in a loveless marriage. She is resigned to the fact that her husband has been conditioned from birth to be ‘strong’ and ‘masculine’ – a failing to both of them and one which still abounds in society today. She is resigned, most of all, to the banality of life – to the ‘running of a middleclass household […] geared towards the comfort of men’.

‘It is a nice feeling to give up struggling and resign yourself’.

The Loft by Marlen Haushofer, Pg.139

Marlen Haushofer’s The Loft was such a beautiful surprise. Quiet and unassuming, the narrator’s voice powerfully evokes tenderness and understanding in the reader. The simplicity of the narrative highlights the searing honesty and vulnerability of this unnamed woman. John Self, in his review for The Guardian put it perfectly when he summarised that The Loft ‘speaks of human life everywhere, its struggles and successes, while rarely leaving the house’.

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