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I received this book as part of a 'Forgotten Classics' collection a while ago, and have been eager to read it ever since I read the blurb. Marlowe's Faustus is one of my favourite texts, and so it's evident why the tale of a man who sells his shadow to the devil in exchange for wealth would appeal to me. However, I was left slightly disappointed with the book after reading it.
The tale itself was originally written as a cautionary tale for the children of Chamisso's patron, and it certainly has that fairy-tale/fable quality attached to it. I think it is appealing to adults in terms of plot, but I think that the way it is written is a bit too simplistic. There isn't a lot of emphasis on description which I know many people prefer, and I think if you are someone who likes a straight-forward read that gets to the point quickly and moves through events rapidly, this is definitely the book for you. Personally, I think more detail would have helped me engage more with the characters and environment in which the story is set. Having said that, Chamisso does manage to build a sinister atmosphere by continuously voicing Peter's feelings and emotions - when he is scared or unnerved it translates to readers because Chamisso chooses to emphasise this, and as a result, we engage with the character more.
Peter Schlemihl sells his shadow to the devil - "the man in grey" - in exchange for Fortunatus' Lucky Purse, which provides him with an endless amount of wealth. He soon begins to regret his decision when he is taunted for being different, and has to go to extreme lengths to appear normal, learning in the process that he was probably better off before. I like the simplicity of the plot, and Chamisso moves through things rapidly, packing each chapter with a good amount of action. Peter is presented as a likable character - although he does succumb to greed, his intuition and regret reassert his humanity, and by the end, I wasn't left with conflicting emotions towards him. He wasn't particularly captivating, but he wasn't abhorrent or difficult to identify with either.
The book is 11 chapters long, fairly short, and pretty easy to read, provided you are engaged with it. It took a lot for me to motivate myself to keep reading this simply because I lost interest in it fairly quickly. However, I completely encourage you to read it if the plot interests you - you may have a completely different experience and enjoy it a lot more than I did!
Peter Schlemihl The Shadowless Man - Adelbert Chamisso
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