He was considered the favorite in the race for the Swiss Book Prize 2023. Now Christian Haller has also received the award – for his novella “Fog Clearing”.
Dictation was torture for him at school, as was reading to the class. Christian Haller, who suffered from reading and spelling difficulties as a child, has become one of the most renowned writers in Switzerland.
Haller is 80 years old. He had already won numerous literary prizes. On Sunday afternoon he was awarded the Swiss Book Prize 2023. The award ceremony took place in the Theater Basel.
The Swiss Book Prize honors the best Swiss book of the year. Christian Haller receives the award for his novella “Clearing Fog”.
A book about quantum physics – and much more
The book takes place in 1925: On a foggy night, the young physicist Werner Heisenberg watches a man step into the beam of light from a street lamp. After a few steps he disappears into the darkness, shortly afterwards he reappears in the next beam of light. What about this man in the meantime while he is not visible? Heisenberg asks himself. Do things only exist when you see them?
This thought triggers an inner unrest in him. He senses that he is close to solving a theoretical problem. And in the coming weeks he will actually make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of quantum physics.
Mixture of fact and fiction
Werner Heisenberg really existed; he is one of the most important physicists of the 20th century. His experience – observing a man in the light of a lantern – is also documented. Here Christian Haller was based on facts. In his novella he also writes about the man about whom we know nothing: the man under the lantern.
The Swiss Book Prize
The Swiss Book Prize has been awarded every year since 2008 as part of the “Buch Basel” literature festival. “The best narrative or essayistic German-language work in Switzerland” should be honored. The prize is worth a total of 42,000 francs. 30,000 of these go to the winner, while the nominees receive 3,000 francs each.
The best-known award winners include Melinda Nadj Abonji, Lukas Bärfuss, Peter Stamm, Sibylle Berg and Kim de l’Horizon.
Nominated this year – in addition to Christian Haller with “Sich clearing fog” – Demian Lienhard (“Mr. Goebbels Jazz Band”), Sarah Elena Müller (“Picture without a Girl”), Adam Schwarz (“Glitsch”) and Matthias Zschokke ( “Grey Peter”).
The five-member jury included the literary critic Sieglinde Geisel, the bookseller Laurin Jäggi, the SRF literary editor Michael Luisier, the literary scholar Joanna Nowotny and the cultural scientist Yeboaa Ofosu.
Haller gave it the name “Helstedt”. The retired historian is mourning his late wife and one morning has the feeling that he can look into objects. He sees how tiny particles flicker around, how they attract and repel each other.
What the physicist Heisenberg researches as a scientist, Helstedt seems to experience in a miraculous way.
Despite the weighty topic, Christian Haller’s work never reads like a physics textbook – on the contrary: Haller’s language has a dancing elegance. And it is with this same elegance that Haller brings physics and philosophy together – and makes literature out of it.
Literature platform “Views”
You can find out more about Christian Haller and the other nominees on the SRF literature platform “Views”
Using the two main characters – Heisenberg and Helstedt – he discusses questions such as: How do you describe the indescribable? How do you say the unspeakable? Or: How reliable is our perception?
The book prize jury praised Haller with the words: “He masterfully condenses the complex topics into a novella that is simple and easy to understand and is just as convincing through its depth of thought as it is through its linguistic elegance and clarity.”
Thin but weighty book
After the shortlist was announced, Haller was quickly considered the favorite for this year’s Swiss Book Prize. Only Sarah Elena Müller was considered competition. With her novel “Picture without a Girl” she presented a debut this year that is as oppressive as it is impressive.
Ultimately, it was probably the linguistic lightness that permeates “Clearing Mist” that convinced the jury. Haller’s novella only has 120 pages. But it is the most important Swiss book in 2023.
Christian Haller: “Fog clearing”, 123 pages. Luchterhand, 2023.
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