Integrity/Folly

Sandra Hoffmann’s Paula, in Katy Derbyshire’s new translation, was one of the most subtle books I read last year. In an effort to draw new attention to literature that largely went overlooked during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve dedicated some space at Splice to a review of Hoffmann’s work:

Where Paula really shines… is in its narrator’s capacity for doubt, as Hoffmann carves out spaces in which to question the worth of hoping to know a person by eroding their armour of silence. “What makes a person?” the narrator asks at one point, apparently in despair, unsure about whether stripping back the silence surrounding her grandmother will finally yield anything worthwhile — unsure, that is, as to whether it’s a valid method of developing a sympathetic imagination or merely an engine of fantasy. “And how can a woman add up… if she’s done her utmost to reveal nothing of herself”, she continues, “as though she could still say: No, I won’t give you permission. No, you may not know me. No, you may not tell my story. How far do vetoes extend? How far does silence reach?” There are no ready answers to these questions, and their unanswerability tears holes in the integrity of Paula. It is to Hoffmann’s credit that her narrator is able to leave no stone unturned in her investigation of Paula’s legacy — historical, emotional, and psychological — while also accommodating the possibility that the entire thing is a folly.