Excerpt from The Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Valley of Unknowing

By Philip Sington

The Valley of Unknowing
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Dec 2012,
    304 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


We left the building. Since my last visit a large hoarding had been erected outside, bearing a slogan in red capitals:

TO CYCLE EACH DAY
IS THE SOCIALIST WAY !


Ignoring this inspirational statement, we crossed the square on foot and continued to Wilsdrufferstrasse, a bland, well-swept avenue of sandy-hued apartment blocks and a sprinkling of shops. Schilling led me into a pedestrian alley where the wares of various retail outlets – reconditioned watches, alarm clocks, lace, tableware – were on display in free-standing glass cabinets. By now I was expecting a quiet tete-a-tete in a shadowy drinking hole, but the establishment Schilling was anxious to show me turned out to be a glass-fronted Eiscafé that went by the name of Tutti Frutti. Inside, melting under bright lights, were three varieties of ice cream. Behind the counter sat an impressive-looking coffee machine, but there was no coffee to go with it; so Schilling and I each bought a cone and perched on a pair of stools, catching glances from the children and bleach-blonde matrons who made up the rest of the clientele.

Schilling started in with a series of routine questions concerning my health (tolerable), my work (officially ongoing, actually dormant), my social life (satisfactory, if repetitive), responding to my answers with earnest nods of the head, slow licks of his ice cream and frequent glances out of the window. All the while, the document wallet sat tightly wedged between his thighs, like a bomb that needed pressure to keep from going off.

Eventually silence fell.

'Michael, what's the matter? You're acting strangely. It's making my stomach hurt.'

Schilling blushed. 'I'm sorry. Paul's coming down this weekend. At least he said he was. You know how he . . .'

Yes, I did know. Paul was Schilling's son, now twenty-two, the sole issue from a brief and disastrous marriage to the lovely Magdalena Bonner – her post-nuptial loveliness proving skin deep, as I'd suspected it would. Schilling loved his son, but the best I could manage was to pity him, stuck as he was with a selfish, materialistic mother and an absent father. Paul brought to Schilling little these days but grief. After his military service, which he had been lucky to complete without a court martial, he had abandoned the maternal flat in central Berlin and taken up with a pack of dropouts in Pankow.

I would have taken less interest in the whole sorry business had I not felt in some degree responsible. The truth is that Magdalena Bonner would never have taken the slightest interest in a bookish myopic like Michael had it not been for his connection to The Orphans of Neustadt. For a good few years the success of that book lent us both an aura of glamour and distinction; qualities that more than made up for any deficiency in looks. I'd had just enough experience with women to be on my guard against mercenary love, but poor Schilling who, as far as I could tell, had never had a proper girlfriend (and only a limited number of sexual encounters, mostly of the fumbling, outdoor variety) was easy prey.

'Does Paul have a job yet?' I asked.

'Oh, yes. Caretaker, at some sort of gun club.'

'A gun club? Is that wise?'

'Don't joke. I just hope he sticks with it. You know, until something . . .'

Until something better comes along was the unarticulated sentiment; one we both knew was best left uncritiqued.

On the other side of the street a man in a grey anorak was taking a long time lighting a cigarette. Schilling watched him intently, his tongue frozen on the rim of his ice cream.

'Someone you know?' I asked. (Such instances of paranoia always irritated me.)

My question went unanswered. The stranger discarded his match and walked away. Schilling's tongue returned to duty. 'By the way, Bruno. There's something I'd like your opinion on.'

Reprinted from The Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington. Copyright (c) 2012 by Philip Sington. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Socialist Realism

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...
  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Who Said...

He who opens a school door, closes a prison.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.