It was pretty much perfect. No story could’ve been simpler. It really is just about a young Austrian lancer (in pre-war Austro-Hungary) who becomes friendly with a disabled girl and eventually becomes the object of her affections. For various weird reasons (which are not really to his credit), he can’t imagine ever being with her. However, she’s very emotionally fragile, so he has to tiptoe around her.
Nothing more than that. But the tension was unbearable. Very great novel. Worth reading.
I mean, there is a bunch of stuff about the life of a lancer before the Great War. And all that stuff is very fun too. It’s another illustration of how sometimes the best way to get details like this into a novel is to put them in the background. Alot of this military life stuff is similar to what was in Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March. But in that novel, it was all very much in the foreground, and it felt, sometimes, like not enough was happening. Whereas in Beware of Pity, you get both the scenery and the action.
Weirdly, just like Radetzky March, this novel ends with the announcement of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the declaration of war. That was obviously a very traumatic moment in the Austrian national consciousness, but it still seems weird to end two iconic Austrian novels in exactly the same way.