The Imposition

Ariane Koch

German, Suhrkamp, Berlin, 2021

“We strive for a degree of randomness, even if the algorithm means that this randomness, of course, is also predictable.”

“We’re all looking for explanations,
and we do that in our past,
because it’s the only place we can look.”


A young woman ekes out a living in a house that is too big in a town that is too small right by a triangular mountain. When a guest turns up, she takes him in without hesitation. The guest is as promisingly new as he is strange and he quickly becomes the captivating centre of attention, but also the victim of inquisitorial fantasies of power. Until he finally escapes the clutches of the increasingly obsessive landlady and she herself, alone again, embarks on a long-awaited journey and now becomes a guest in her turn.

The Imposition is the remarkable debut of the young Swiss author and playwright Ariane Koch. Her female protagonist is visited by a guest who at the same time fascinates and irritates her. This arrival of the guest – who is simply referred to as ‘the guest’ – shakes her world and makes her question her life, until at the end, she overcomes her inhibitions and leaves town.

The ominous guest appears one day and moves in with the young woman. She describes how their eyes met at the train station – the guest arriving, she about to leave – and how she couldn’t help but accommodate him. The young woman lives in a small town, into which she was born unwillingly, as she puts it, in a way too big house for her that she only ‘looks after’ until her siblings will kick her out one day. The protagonist has a remarkable way of observing and describing her surroundings, she is an attentive narrator, adopting a beautifully naïve, at times ‘childlike’ point of view and nevertheless reflecting her surroundings in a philosophical way.

As the novel’s title implies, the guest invades the protagonist’s world in a somewhat brutal manner. The relationship between the protagonist and her guest is deeply ambivalent, her feelings towards him meandering between love, hate, disgust and pity. She develops an even masochistic relation to the guest, using him as her servant. Also, the impression the readership gets from the guest is controlled by the narrator – in fact, she describes the guest in so many different and also contradicting ways, leaving her readership dependent on her unreliability and constantly wondering: Who or what exactly is this guest?

Ariane Koch creates in her debut two idiosyncratic characters who are mutually dependent but not very compatible. In only about 170 pages, Koch manages to draft a nearly utopian world entirely shaped by her narrator’s quirky way of seeing the world. This world is at times surreal and enigmatic but feels nevertheless uncannily realistic. While the text is composed of many miniatures describing everyday experiences and absurd Kafkaesque episodes, it also reflects on a larger scale on philosophical questions as to how we engage with the unknown and how we position ourselves in a society.

Text by Martina Keller

Die Aufdrängung
Suhrkamp, Berlin
Translation rights
Nora Mercurio,
Publication date
August 2021
Swiss Literature Award


Ariane Koch

Ariane Koch, born in Basel in 1988, studied fine arts and interdisciplinarity. She writes – also in collaboration – theatre and performance texts, radio plays and prose. Her texts have won numerous awards and have been performed in places like Basel, Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul and Moscow. Ariane Koch has been granted various fellowships, including one from the Cité internationale des Arts in Paris (2020). She has been teaching at the Institute for Aesthetic Practice and Theory at the Basel School of Art and Design since 2019. The Imposition is her debut novel and won the aspekte-Literaturpreis 2021 as well as one of the Swiss Literature Prizes 2022.

Photo: © Heike Steinweg/Suhrkamp Verlag