The House on Its Own

Review

A posthumously published collection of eleven stories written between 1972 and 1974, represents Andrić’s last major creative effort in short fiction. It clearly demonstrates that his prodigious talent was not exhausted in the last years of his life, as some critics suspected. On the one hand “The House on Its Own” is a deeply retrospective work, a rich résumé of Andri ć’s most characteristic and pervasive themes, motifs and character types. Yet it is an innovative work as well, fundamentally different in composition from all of his other prose. This is Andrić’s first attempt to create a “closed” cycle of interconnected stories.

Andrić links the stories explicitly through the narrator-writer whose presence weaves through the entire cycle. In the introduction the writer, allegedly Andrić himself, appears in the first person to define the compositional framework of the collection. He identifies the stories as recollections associated with an eclectic house in Bosnia. The cycle is constructed as a series of ghostly visitations by tormented souls who intrude upon the writer in this setting in order to tell their stories. These alienated beings are familiar figures from Andrić’s literary landscape: ruthless rulers, libertines, social outcasts, dreamers and recluses. Whether the result of a single traumatic experience, hereditary degeneracy, social decay or all-consuming passion, physical and spiritual suffering permeates the universe of Andrić’s fiction? But in the midst of this seemingly hopeless existence, even in pain and degradation, there are moments of ecstasy and release. Andrić’s message in “The House on Its Own” is not pessimistic. It is disquieting and deeply moving yet always life-affirming. Although tormented in life, in death the ghostly visitors receive their due through the cathartic process of storytelling.

“The House on Its Own” is clearly one of Andrić’s most complex and innovative works. It operates in two frames of reference, fictional and metaliterary. For the first time Andrić is baring the artifice of writing fiction and exploring the art of storytelling. These apparitions from the past are not “real” ghosts, but ghosts of imaginary characters explicitly identified as the writer’s own creations. “The House on Its Own” is thus both a final successful endeavor in the genre of the short story as well as a very personal, even autobiographical study of the artist’s craft, a testament to his life and art.