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Peter Handke, Essay on a Mushroom Maniac

(from Quiet Places: Collected Essays)



Peter Handke, Essay on a Mushroom Maniac


In 2019, Peter Handke won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 2022, FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) published a career-spanning collection of Handke’s essays, featuring two new works never before published in English. Personally, I read “Essay on a Mushroom Maniac'' in its Italian translation by Alessandra Iadicicco, published by Guanda as a self-standing essay. I wish I could lay my hands on both the other versions, English and German, to confront the original with the translation.


“Quiet Places" brings together Peter Handke’s forays into the border regions of life and story, upending the distinction between literature and the literary essay. Proceeding from the specificity of place (the mountains of Carinthia and Spain, the hinterlands of Paris) to specific objects (the jukebox, the boletus mushroom) to the irreducible particularity of our moods and mental impressions, these works—each a novella in its own right—offer rare insight into the affinities that can develop between a storyteller and the unlikeliest of subjects.”


You should read this book if: you enjoy unfolding tales of unique, unconventional characters, who go down a path they could have never imagined at first.


A man like no other

“Essay on a Mushroom Maniac” is the story of a friend’s descent to and ascent from the depths of obsession. A very unique friend indeed, just as Peter Handke is very unique as a writer, has a very unique, distinct style of writing. A friend who remains nameless, a friend who leads a pretty uneventful life: he graduates, he gets married, he has a child. By wearing the mask of a mushroom maniac, he seems to cultivate a space where he feels comfortable being an outsider. At least until he can no longer take off such a mask.


A deep breath at every blank line

There is something I love about this book: blank lines between paragraphs. They are actually landmarks of Handke’s writing. But now, as I go on reading about coppice woodlands, lush forests, trails, underbrush, and mushrooms, as I try to recall from my memory a mental picture of a deep forest in daylight, suddenly a blank line feels like a deep breath. The breath of the earth, maybe.


Fairy-tale settings and a timeless ambiance

I once knew a mushroom maniac too: my nonna. She was the kind of competitive mushroom seeker, somewhat opposite to this particular mushroom maniac. This essay by Peter Handke reminds me of her, and it makes me very sentimental. Mushrooms are the perfect metaphor for life after death, and my favorite variety of mushroom is the so-called trumpets of the dead. I find them beautiful, and they taste a lot like truffles, despite being cheaper. If it hadn’t been for my nonna, I wouldn’t have this intimate perspective on “Essay on a Mushroom Maniac”.



Essay on a Mushroom Maniac

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Lovely how literature makes us connect deeper to our roots, thanks for sharing!

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This book looks amazing! And I feel interested to read it when you mention mushrooms are a good metaphor about life after dead. It reminds me the magical realism (in Spanish, we say realismo mágico) and fairy tales. Great blog Cecilia!

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They are the best! Good choices Cecilia. You can also read Gabriel García Marquez and Isabel Allende.

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