Joseph Schreiber on Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant

Wolfgang Hilbig, Old Rendering Plant (trans. Isabel Fargo Cole)
Wolfgang Hilbig, Old Rendering Plant (trans. Isabel Fargo Cole)

“In Old Rendering Plant, an extended monologue that slips in and out of passages of pure stream of consciousness, this tension is implicit. Originally published as Alte Abdeckerei in 1991, this novella is a meditation on the formation of identity in an environment that contains a complex network of buried secrets. The narrator is looking back from a vague and indeterminate adult perspective at that point of transition from adolescence to maturity. His is a restless narrative; memories and waters sweep by as he traces and retraces a path along a brook that, bordered by stands of willows, carves a channel through the fields on the outskirts of his hometown. As a child he found refuge in this landscape filled with magic, possibility, and adventure, armed with a wooden sabre and an imaginary foe. It was a place to feel safe and protected.

One of his favorite playgrounds was, against all adult admonishments, found in the fragmented ruins of a coal plant. Here he waged countless fanciful battles until one evening he slipped and fell off a concrete platform. He was fortunate to land in the grass, but later that night he remembered hearing people staggering across the platform above him, and he awoke to find on his right leg evidence of the substance that had caused his fall: “a dried mire, a black-green slurry mixed with blood.” This incident marks the beginning of a loss of innocence, the first intimations of the existence of dreadful truths that, as the narrator ages, begin to take on a greater, more complicated and disturbing significance. As the narrative unfolds, his reminisces and reflections trace his movement toward a reckoning. Gradually, as layers of memory are stripped away, he approaches an clearer understanding of the forces that have driven him. It’s not a comfortable space he finds.”

— Joseph Schreiber, The Quarterly Conversation

Advertisements
  1. Thank you for calling attention to my review. It was odd to see my name in the headline when I saw this in my email inbox this morning!

    • Anytime! I’m very curious about Hilbig’s novel—looking forward to reading it! Best, Rhys

      • I am pretty certain this will be my favourite book of the year. Hilbig has a very idiosyncratic style and this one, as more of stream of consciousness monologue than his other books translated to date, suits his prose perfectly.

Add your thoughts, links, and recommendations

%d bloggers like this: