A mother and her two teenage children are preparing a feast of mussels, their customary meal for celebrations. The daughter doesn’t much care for mussels, nor does the mother, but this is what they do. They must act like a proper family. But the father doesn’t come home when expected and the truths of their proper family come out.

The Mussel Feast is narrated by the daughter and starts off with the actions of preparing and cooking the mussels. There is a fantastic passage where the mussels start to scream and she contemplates them being cooked alive. When the father doesn’t return, her thoughts start to wander and the novella is a slow reveal of their lives. A normal family on the outside but living under a controlling father; one obsessed with being proper. When alone the family can act how they like but as soon as he is present, they put on their masks.

The Mussel Feast is one of the most studied texts in Germany. Written just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it shows a family that have escaped the East, trading one form of control for another. Birgit Vanderbeke wrote it to explore how revolutions start, how one thought can snowball into realisation and defiance. There are quite a lot of run-on sentences and paragraphs that run into pages, which reflects the daughter’s train of thought. It’s a short yet completely absorbing read.

This is the first of Peirene’s three titles for 2013 in their Turning Point: Revolutionary Moments series, with Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson and Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall still to come. I love the sound of all of these and if you do to, the best way to support Peirene Press is via subscription. This edition has been translated into English by Jamie Bulloch and is currently available in paperback. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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