I am not a skier. Never have been. Most likely never will be. So when I started reading a book subtitled “Ghost Stories for Skiers”, I was afraid my non-existing knowledge of skiing would hamper my understanding or my reading pleasure. Fortunately, my fears turned out to be mostly baseless; or, at least, so I believe, as one cannot really know if one misses out on some subtleties due to one's ignorance, right?
This book contains thirteen (most probably an intentional number) short stories, all set in a skiing setting, usually in some upscale resort in Switzerland. The stories, as the name of the book suggests, all revolve around mysterious things happening to people who are in the ski resort – the holiday goers, the chalet owners, the local help, etc. Some of the protagonists are either dead of alive; others are plotting unspeakable crimes; others still are innocent bystanders who get drawn into a situation they cannot escape. The eponymous cow is the main character in the first story, as the drawing on the book cover suggests, this is not a mild-tempered, grass-chewing, cow.
The back cover of the book says that these are “stories to be shared in the firelight after a long day’s skiing”. Maybe this is part of some ski lore that I’m unaware of, but I found some of the stories disturbing enough even when read in the comfort of my bed. The thing about short stories, especially ones that deal with ghosts, is that you can read a couple just before falling asleep and the images from the story will most likely accompany you in your dreams. At least on one occasion, that was not a pleasant experience. So perhaps the firelight in the ski resort is indeed a better place for reading this book.
But it was not the stories which enjoyed most about this book. Some were good, some were less good. What I enjoyed most was Kochanski’s habit of inserting a sentence, or a short paragraph, that didn’t really contribute much to the story line, but were wonderfully cynical or funny. Most of them made me do a double take, just to make sure I got the meaning correctly, and quite often they made me laugh. I may be wrong, but it seemed to me almost as if Kochanski were using the story only as an excuse to get a sentence he had been thinking about for a long time into the book. Here are a couple of examples (hopefully they’ll be appreciated even out of context):
Jägermeister is a worthy product of the land that gave us weltschmetz, schadenfreude, and angst. It tastes so vile that you have to down it in one. Like some Wagnerian magic weapon, it will heal any wounds except the ones it has caused itself… (from “The Long Man”, p. 59)
Now the man at the ski shop was from New Zealand, and when someone from Nizullund talks about sex, he calls it `six`. They guy in the shop didn’t talk about sex at all, but it being snowboards, he had to talk about decks rather a lot. (from “Downhill”, p. 86)
Kochanski is clearly a very erudite person. And his writing is mostly flowing and intelligent. I hope to see a novel from him in the future.