And yet for all its terror and dread, its death-haunted self-interrogations, Malina is never a depressing novel. Instead, it is eerie, vulnerable, brave and captivating. With its long ribbons of digressive sentences – sometimes looping over a page – and its echoes and rhythms that bring coherence where there is none, it performs a task that it declares impossible: retrieves a self from the rubble, redeems the corrupted act of writing, becomes its own unwritten “beautiful book”.
Bachmann died in a fire in her bedroom (apparently caused by a lit cigarette) in 1973. Malina, which was to have been the overture to her Death Styles sequence, became her sole novel. It urges us, down the decades, to “speak across borders even if borders pass through every word”.