The Undertaking

The Undertaking

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The Undertaking
A Novel by Audrey Magee
Finalist for the Baileys Women’s Prize

Conversations about the difference between infatuation and love are commonplace in a therapist’s office.  Many clients seek therapy when a relationship fueled by intense infatuation does not mature into love.  It is often useful to explore one’s own patterns in relationships and further one’s understanding of the difference between these easily confused emotions.   In her book Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert cleverly describes the distinction:

“Infatuation is not quite  the same thing as love; it’s more like love’s shady second cousin who’s always borrowing money and can’t hold down a job.”

Audrey Magee’s jolting and memorable novel contemplates questions much greater than the difference  between love or infatuation.  This complex essay alternates between the experience of one German family in Berlin and of a group of soldiers suffering on the Eastern Front.  What unfolds is a chilling window into the lesser explored dimension of the German experience fighting and navigating society during WWII.

Peter, a German soldier stationed in Russia, agrees to marry Katharina, whom he has never met.  The official arrangement provides Peter with some state-sanctioned leave and a much needed reprieve from the brutality on the battle lines to meet his bride and consummate his marriage.  Furthermore, the marriage promises Katharina a pension in the event that Peter is killed in combat.  With war-torn Berlin as its backdrop, Katharina and Peter meet and  are instantly enveloped in a passionate affair that carries them through the brutalities of the war.  With thousands of miles between them, their devotion fuels their will to survive horrors that befall each of them, which Magee conveys with a simplicity that will simultaneously stagger and engage readers.

This profoundly unsettling tale, while not for those who prefer fluff or diversion, is also a psychologically compelling study in the complex array of feelings that can cause confusion between the experiences of infatuation and love.  Many therapy clients struggle to distinguish between the two, and the extreme circumstances of World War II intensify the characters’ currents of desire and complicate their ability understand of their marital bond.

For those who are suffering through a difficult romantic relationship or a traumatic breakup, The Undertaking may provide a chilling perspective on the perils of infatuation in the context the human quest for mature love.

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Elisabeth LaMotte

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