Picture Without Girl

Sarah Elena Müller

German, Limmat Verlag, 2023

“The child shakes off the stiffness that comes from watching television. She pushes the images and sounds out of her head so her parents don’t notice that she has secretly gotten their fill at the neighbours’ house, before pushing open the living room door with a fresh face.”

“The rationalities of the adults step into a clearing in the forest. They are deer. They circle one another and look at the ends of each other’s antlers.”

“The child wants to forget that her soul has a leak through which it is dripping.”


In her debut novel Picture Without Girl, Sarah Elena Müller broaches a sensitive subject: child abuse. The story of the child, neglected and left to suffer, wins over readers with its highly concentrated, poetic language. 

What goes on at the neighbours’ house doesn’t worry the parents. The mother is too busy devoting herself to her art, the father trying to save the environment. So their child goes to watch TV at Ege’s place. Ege is a media theorist who collects films. He also films the child. In one of the films, the child discovers an angel. She holds on to the angel and seeks refuge in it while enduring her helpless silence. The adults do not see the angel; they look away altogether. In their quest for self-fulfilment, they have neither the time nor patience to deal with the child’s suffering, and so they enlist a questionable healer to take care of her bed-wetting. Darkly, the child suspects that she is not an angel: ‘It’s her own fault.’

Picture Without Girl is a brilliant literary debut. The neglected child can’t rely on the adults around her to acknowledge what’s right in front of them; she has to deal with the tangle of experiences and emotions by herself. Sarah Elena Müller has given the girl a narrative voice that moves back and forth between childishly naïve and bluntly matter-of-fact perspectives that simultaneously portray the world as an enchanting but dark place. She only vaguely alludes to the events that occur in Ege’s flat, a tactic that forces a certain level of responsibility onto the reader. They have to come to terms with acknowledging what is happening to the child behind the veil of non-understanding and thought suppression. In this way, the author succeeds in bringing poetic form and language to such a delicate subject.

The child, who slowly becomes a girl, then a young woman, protects herself by not allowing anyone to enter her imaginary world. And as she can’t talk to anyone, she confides in her angel. The fairy-tale-like images, the childlike way of seeing things and the roughened language help her to cope in an adult world that is driven by ambition and disillusionment and plays down and turns a blind eye to her hardships. It is the tone, which sits between childish naïvety and matter-of-fact clarity, that sets the novel apart linguistically and presents a beautiful stylistic challenge for its translation.

Text by Beat Mazenauer

Bild ohne Mädchen
Limmat Verlag
Translation rights
Larissa Waibel, kontor@limmatverlag.ch
Publication date
February 2023
Nominated for the Swiss Book Award 2023


Sarah Elena Müller

Sarah Elena Müller, born in 1990, is a multimedia artist who works in literature, music, virtual reality, radio play and theatre. She is a ghostwriter for the Swiss dialect pop duo ‘Cruise Ship Misery’, in which she also performs as a musician, and leads the virtual reality project ‘Meine Sprache und ich’ (My language and I) – a detailed examination of Ilse Aichinger’s language criticism. In 2019, her scene book Culturestress – Endziit isch immer scho inbegriffe [Culture stress – the end time is always included] was published by Der gesunde Menschenversand. In 2015, her short story Fucking God was published by Büro für Problem. As co-founder of the RAUF collective, she is committed to the causes of feminist authors in Switzerland. Her work is occasionally awarded prizes and residencies.

Photo: © Laura Stevens