Elly by Maike Wetzel

Short books like Elly always intrigue me. It’s not to say writing of any length is easy, but I think it must be easier to write more, than less. To write twenty words instead of five carefully curated ones. So when a short novella comes along, I’m always keen to see how the author has made economical use of their words and produce a gripping read. Sarah Moss does this brilliantly in her novella Ghost Wall, which comes in at 150 pages, and builds incredible tension to an excruciating climax.

I picked Elly off of the proof* shelf in the stock room of the book shop, for three reasons. The first is the aforementioned length of the book, (137 pages). The second was the attention-grabbing premise: a missing child reappears and all is not what it seems. The third reason is that Maike Wetzel is a German writer, and I haven’t read any German translations. I try to read widely, and have enjoyed Delphine de Vigan’s French translations, (No and Me, Loyalties), so Elly appealed to me, and would broaden my reading material.

Elly is a very entertaining, though not altogether comfortable read. Lyn Marven has done a brilliant translation into English and the style is lots of short, staccato sentences. All of the characters, except for Elly herself, are problematic. Everyone is psychologically scarred by Elly’s disappearance – her sister, mother, father, and as you’ll discover in a great plot twist, someone else. This red-herring and plot reveal comes close to the end and reinforces the damaging effects of the unsolved mystery.

What I found most thought-provoking was the psychological motivations of the characters. They are so desperate to seek a resolution to Elly’s disappearance, that they will allow themselves to believe a lie. Even in the face of contradictory, damning evidence, they turn their lives upside down in order to facilitate the narrative they want to believe, rather than the unfaceable truth.


*Elly is available in April 2020.