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No Way Back

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  231 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Charming, cheerful Count Holk is delighted to be called away from his solemn wife to the distant court of a Danish princess. Swept up in the romance of his new, lively surroundings at a 'castle by the sea', the Count does not realize that not everyone there is what they seem - and that a wrong decision may have fatal consequences. Published in 1892, this tragicomic work of ...more
Paperback, Penguin Classics, 256 pages
Published May 2nd 2013 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1891)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,466)
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So. Irretrievable (1891). A marriage novel. Possibly untranslatable. I liked this novel so much that I feel hesitant to recommend it and if you've read Madame Bovary (1856) or Anna Karenina (1877) you may well wonder why you should read this, after all, it is just another nineteenth century story of adultery with an interplay between provincialism and the, ahem, "sophistication" of Court life.

The action of the novel can be summed up simply enough. Man (Holk) meets woman (Ebba). They have sex. Ma
Oct 12, 2011 Terence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: NYRB essay
Sometimes I’ve read books whose characters or stories resonate so powerfully with me that I feel as if the author was writing about me. Croaker in Glen Cook’s Black Company series is one of my favorite characters in SF because he and I are “soul mates”; if I were ever to meet him (a la Harold Shea in The Compleat Enchanter - oh, how I wish), I’m sure we’d get along famously. And then there are W. Somerset Maugham’s Larry and Philip, from The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage, respectively. Both ...more
Apr 27, 2014 Issicratea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, 1800-1900
I didn’t think this novel was quite as good as Fontane’s Effi Briest—but that’s setting the bar very high. It’s still an absorbing and subtle novel, with the same obliquity that I liked in Effi Briest, and the same intriguing parsing of the emotional dynamics of marriage. And the setting is, again, unusual and evocative. The novel is set between Denmark and Prussia, in the era of the Schleswig-Holstein question, of which we hear much in this book (fortunately, handled with Fontane’s signature li ...more
Apr 24, 2011 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: georg (because he could read it in German!)
Shelves: german, marriage
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Quinby6696 Frank
Dec 04, 2013 Quinby6696 Frank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This heartbreaking,devastating portrait of the disintegration of a marriage is all the more poignant because it happens slowly, inexorably and in spite of the volition of both participants involved.

Baron Helmut Holke has been married to the beautiful Christine Arne for many years. They have two adolescent children and live in a castle by the sea near Glucksburg in Schleswig-Holstein - the Holke family estate. Christine is highly emotional, extremely intellectual, and somewhat of a religious fana
Here is the truth, I read this book because of the title. I am taking part on a reading challenge and one of the more interesting tasks was to read 3 books with titles that would form a “spine poem” (you can check more here ). Anyway, I needed to read Irretrievable because I had already invested too much time on the other 2 titles and I was not about to start it all over again. But I got very close to giving it up.

At the end I finished and I am glad I did
Nicholas During
Jul 03, 2012 Nicholas During rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the ever-going debate between the objective, traditional 3rd person narrative vs. the experimental, subjective, nouveau-roman Fontane seems a breathe of fresh air. He clearly is in the former camp, but, like H. James, is able to do some pretty awesome things with it. In this instance, exploring the dissipation of once very happy relationship, with, of course, his own and the novels favorite plot device, adultery.

It is brilliant to watch how people completely deceive themselves, as well as ot
Feb 28, 2015 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book, published in 1891, presents a stark example of the timeless, science validated wisdom that today is relegated to the likes of seduction/PUA blogs by the PC police: your best chance of a happy relationship is where the male is of much higher status than the female. Women consciously claim to want the dopey good-husband type, but subconsciously they have contempt for such men, and things are going to go badly. Right on page 8:
Holk, though a kind and excellent husband, was none the less
Apr 25, 2014 Carson rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It takes a particular state of mind to read nineteenth century European fiction I feel. This is a subtle, gentle novel and is mostly dialogue; it must be read through the prism of its Age, which is not always easy to this modern reader. I'm glad I read it, but for fiction from the same era I still prefer Zola.
This book is a pearl on a cloudy day -- a lovely story of an avuncular, hen-pecked Count and his irritatingly pious wife in their castle in Denmark by the sea. It is a Victorian (1871) book of manners set in Victorian times (1850s) but it reads as lightly and humourously as any contemporary novel.
Feb 18, 2015 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The sole message I took from this book was "don't marry a fool, even if he's a count."

After reading Fontane's engaging Effi Briest, I found this work of his a disappointment. Part of the problem was due to the fact I had little idea what was going on for the first 149 pages. I'm not up on Danish/Swedish politics of the mid-1800's and before, and there is such constant reference to them that this book can't be made sense of apart from a Scandinavian history lesson.

But more than that, the characte
Apr 04, 2013 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, read-again
Irretrievable, by Theodore Fontane, was first published in 1891 and is also known as "No Way Back". I like that title better I think. Fontane was a German novelist and poet , the son of a pharmacist from Prussia. At the age of 16 he was apprenticed to a pharmactist eventually becoming one himself. During this time he wrote his first poems. However Fontane eventually gave up the pharmacist profession to devote himself to writing. Fontane first wrote political texts and became a full time journal ...more
Brian Berrett
Jan 24, 2016 Brian Berrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honestly, I didn't like the book in the beginning. The author takes us through a lot of, what I thought, were meaningless tangent conversations. I simply wasn't interested in the content. I've read books with tangents by the likes of Hugo, Melville, etc., and I don't have a problem with tangents. In Irretrievable, I simply wasn't interested in them and getting through the first half (and more) of the book was laborious. Then, I have to admit, things happened in the book (I'll let you read it to ...more
Karla Eaton
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tony Gualtieri
Jun 22, 2012 Tony Gualtieri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A near perfect novel on the death of a marriage due to incompatibility and infidelity. The setting is mid-19th Century Denmark. It is beautifully rendered. The time is that quiet decade between the revolutions of 1848 and the expansion of Prussia. Many of the scenes involve court life in Copenhagen.

The pacing is exquisite. The characters reveal themselves primarily through dialogue and are only minimally explained by the omniscient narrator. The story moves slowly, each scene adding to the plot
Jan 14, 2016 Jeanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this novel - I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't a contemporary novel written in an older time period because the style is waaaay ahead of its time. I definitely need to find more Fontane to read. And the fact he didn' publish until he was in his 60s is inspiring - probably a big reason why his view of people is so balanced and nuanced and his characters are so empathetic but flawed. Definitely an intimate peek into a marriage that has been floating along the way life ...more
Feb 03, 2013 Luann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This started very slowly for me -- I got slogged down in the unfamiliar (to me) political background - and lots of characters to keep track of. But the writing was really beautiful and I'm glad I stuck with this. Very subtle. I loved the way characters were revealed to the reader through the conversations and thoughts of other characters. Anyway, once the Count took off for Denmark things started to pick up. I would have liked to have spent more time with Christine in the second half of the book ...more
Apr 02, 2012 Clare rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was not the easiest to read at times because both of the protagonists (Holk and Christine) are so unhappy in their own ways. But it is a book that stays with you as the descriptions of landscape and emotions are so evocative and the dialogue so sharp that it feels immediate and immerses you in the restrictive society of 19th century Denmark.

Despite the parts about the Schleswig Holstein question leaving me cold, this book is well worth reading although not if you want something light a
Jul 21, 2013 Ali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: heavy-reads, own
Not my favourite book, but it was interesting. Although I wouldn't say it was a gripping read by any means, his characters were well drawn and the society he evoked was interesting, especially as I know little about the history of the novel's location at the time period in which it's set. I liked it enough to want to read more of Fontane in the future, but I'll have to give it some time before I revisit him.
May 17, 2013 Ida rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is absolutely, hands-down fantastic. Fontane is a brilliant writer, and it is clear that he knows how to craft this kind of tale. Everything of monumental proportions happens at the end of the book, but he was still able to get me invested in the characters right from the beginning. The characters are frustrating and human and beautiful in all the right ways. It was such a pleasure to read.
My attempt to read some classics every now and then as I hadn't read anything by this very famous German author. I loved the character development in this story and it just reminded me of how so often in older books, the characters are much more of the focus than the plot. I almost wish it had a different title as I might have preferred not knowing that the marriage/ past/ happiness was "irretrievable."
Feb 10, 2013 Kirsten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, germany
Translation of a 19th century novel by an acclaimed German author whom I had never heard of before happening to find out about this book. I like how this book is similar to other 19th century novels I know and love, but intriguingly foreign and different. The German/Danish setting and characters really appeal to me.
Feb 13, 2014 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Probably more like 3.5/5 stars. I felt like I appreciated the book without really enjoying most of it. I didn't particularly feel invested in any of the characters; I didn't really care what happened to them.
Jan 01, 2015 Edward rated it really liked it
The Historical Background

--No Way Back

Translators' Note
Historical Persons, Places and Events Mentioned in 'No Way Back'

Feb 20, 2011 Paige marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This New York Review essay by Philip Lopate appears in the book:
Evan Cvitanovic
Oct 07, 2014 Evan Cvitanovic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ya it was good, that whole schleswig-holstein during the 1800s thing was interesting. Sensibilities and whatnot
Stephen Maughan
May 02, 2012 Stephen Maughan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm reading this, and I love Fontane. He writes life as it is. One of the best books I've read in a long time.
Aug 13, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-books
Beautifully translated.Lovely descriptions.
A lovely moving book which had such a sad ending!
Feb 09, 2010 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
one of my favourite books of all times, to read and re-read...
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NYRB Classics: Irretrievable, by Theodor Fontane 4 18 Jan 31, 2014 08:48AM  
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Theodor Fontane (30 December 1819 – 20 September 1898) was a German novelist and poet, regarded by many to be the most important 19th-century German-language realist writer.

More about Theodor Fontane...

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