‘The Thirtieth Year’ by Ingeborg Bachmann, translated by Michael Bullock

I read that our brains (see Robert Sapolsky’s Behave) don’t fully develop the capacity to tolerate strong divergences from our opinions until around the late-twenties. With this in mind, I recommend you wait until you’re over thirty to read this story. It has the similar effect on one’s morale as Philip Larkin’s poem ‘On Being Twenty-Six’ although Larkin’s ‘source-encrusting doubt’ has hardened to a mouldy loaf by Bachmann’s ‘The Thirtieth Year’. Like ‘Forever Overhead’, this story takes place almost entirely in the mind of the narrator, with some cameos from the outside world. The speaker surveys his life as he enters his thirtieth year, and begins to regard the previous years as probationary. Expectations are lamented upon, as is the wodge of irritations manufactured simply through the passage of time. The most objectionable of irritants is touched upon too, that of unsolicited advice. “The Thirtieth Year” reads like a throat-clearing, not without some significant coughs, but it stresses the comfort we might find in self-clarity.

Collected in The Thirtieth Year, 1987