Continuing in a line of books that play with the title of James Joyce’s novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (my two favorite titles of this sort are William Eastlake’s Portrait of an Artist with 26 Horses and Laurie Foos’ Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist), Friedrich Christian Delius’ Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman has the distinct achievement of containing only one sentence. Yes, you heard me right. There is only one sentence in this book. Of course that sentence is very long, continuing for over 100 pages. The book ends up flowing like an extended series of thoughts on the part of the young German woman at its center. For me at least, the single sentence really didn’t make for challenging reading, beyond the fact that it’s hard to find a good place to take a break from the novel. There are still paragraphs in the book, and the paragraphs make Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman more reader friendly than it might have been otherwise.
What really made the book off-putting and a challenge to get through, despite its short length, was its almost complete lack of plot. The book takes place in Rome during World War II. The woman is pregnant and her husband is stationed in North Africa. The woman wanders around Rome pondering her life, interacting with next to no one, and successfully putting this reader to sleep. It reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, another book that seemed to go on for ages and has little in the way of a traditional plot. Despite my dislike of Virginia Woolf’s writing in general and Mrs. Dalloway in particular, I have talked to many people over the years that like or even consider themselves fans of Mrs. Dalloway. It could be that I’m just missing something.