Book Review – Twleve Nights by Urs Faes

books, reviews

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

We’re so close to the end of the year which means that everyone is thinking about what they’ve achieved this year. For us bookish folks that mainly means the number of books that we’ve read. I’m already seeing people compiling their list of favourite books for 2020. How are they so on it? I’ve figured out which my top 5 rated books are but that doesn’t mean they were my favourite reads. Flawless books don’t always give us the same feels as slightly flawed books do. It’s not always the most fun to read a technically brilliant book. I have been looking back over my reviews for the year though. I think I get more wary of ratings near New Year’s Eve because I remember all of the great books I’ve read over the last 12 months. The books I’m currently reading start to pale in comparison to the books I’d long forgotten about until now. I blame that for my struggle to rate this book. I couldn’t decide so went with a bit of a compromise. Next year, I’m only doing rereads on December. It’s easier.

This short novella was the perfect book to pick up during the strange period between Christmas and New Year. The time when you don’t know what day it is or what you’re meant to be doing. My attention span is never up to concentrating on a longer novel so something short and engaging is ideal. Twelve Nights is set during the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany. This is a time of superstitions and long-held traditions. It’s a period for reminiscing and new beginnings. The perfect time for two estranged brothers to reconcile after a 40-year feud. At least that’s what Manfred is hoping for when he makes a return to his home again.

As this is a period of local legends and a time when spirits are stalking the wintery landscapes, Manfred is haunted by his past. He walks the paths that he once traversed as a child and recalls the events that led to his departure. As the elder son, Manfred was set to inherit his parent’s farm and made plans to settle down with his childhood sweetheart. Although, things changed and it was decided that his younger brother, Sebastian, would take possession of the farm. This tore the two brothers apart and created a violent dispute between the two. Things quickly got out of hand and Manfred lost his family and the woman he loves. Can he and his brother put the past behind them and mend their relationship?

I have always preferred character study over plot so the lack of action in Twelve Nights wasn’t an issue for me. However, it won’t be something that everyone will enjoy. The novella is short anyway but there’s very little in the way of actual story here. The reader is taken through the Black Forest with Manfred as he reacquaints himself with the places from his childhood. As he explores his old haunts, memories of his youth come back to him. Soon, he finds himself haunted by the figures of his past and the emotions that they still stir up inside him. The wintery scenery perfectly evokes Manfred’s inner turmoil and his desperation to reconcile with his brother.

Tradition and folklore are heavily linked to Manfred’s story and the novella uses plenty of biblical imagery to really get its point across. The story of sibling rivalry can be linked to Jacob and Esau as well as Cain and Abel. Then there’s the fact that Manfred’s return is just a version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It might not be subtle but there is an undeniable message here. This novella also shows the power and importance of storytelling. Myths, legends and folktales haunt Manfred and Sebastian’s lives and we can see how they fit into a long history of similar stories. During our lives, we connect with people and they continue to haunt our existence. These spirits appear stronger during these Twelves Nights and the pain associated with them is all the clearer.

This is a beautifully written novella and one that was a joy to read. The writing style seems simple but is full of depth. It is precise and considered, which means it does its job very effectively. You end up getting lost in Manfred’s personal history and the snowy landscape that you follow him through. The world is covered in a blanket of snow and the memories that exist within the personal spaces of his childhood. Twelves Nights perfectly captures the relationship that exists between the natural and the human worlds. People become emotionally tied to their home and their memories can still be felt long after they have departed from the world. Though there is plenty of unhappiness in this novella, there is also plenty of life and love.

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