on Remarque’s ‘The Promised Land’

The-Promised-Land-by-Erich-Maria-Remarque-hardback-coverNeal Ascherson at the London Review of Books:

Remarque apparently knew that The Promised Land would be his last novel, and meant it to be one of his finest, perhaps his masterwork – even in comparison to All Quiet on the Western Front. But he died in 1970, leaving it unfinished: a massive stub. Michael Hofmann, his translator, recalls some other unfinished fictions. But this is notThe Mystery of Edwin Drood or The Man without Qualities. Those two books lack their ends, but what remains doesn’t feel raw or rough; they simply break off. The Promised Land in contrast feels unpruned. Most of it, perhaps as much as three-quarters of its intended length, seems to be there. But the telling is sometimes baggy, repetitive, irrelevant or all three, and any reader will begin to notice passages that Remarque might have cut out or cut down if he had been allowed more time.

The book’s history, as far as we are told about it, remains rather unclear. There were several successive versions – one account says there were six – and this is alleged to be the last, Remarque having junked the others. This makes it all the more peculiar that his widow, the Hollywood superstar Paulette Goddard, went to Munich a year after his death and launched an earlier and much inferior draft entitled Schatten im Paradies, translated as Shadows in Paradise (Remarque had left Germany in 1931, hounded by the Nazis even before they came to power, but continued to write in German). That text was pretty universally panned. Remarque, the critics said, had clearly been suffering from a senile decay of talent.

more here.