The novella I’m about to review today is “The Royal Game” written by Stefan Zweig. It was published in 1942 after the author’s suicide.
Stefan Zweig tells the story of a man who is on a boat. The current world champion of chess also happens to be on this very boat. Together with a few other men he tries to beat him in a game of chess. Of course they have absolutely no chance against such a strong opponent. They play again. Just when they are about to make a fatal mistake a man steps in and stops them. He explains how this move would affect the whole game. This man manages to end the game with a remis.
Deeply impressed the other men want him to play again as he is the only one who might have a chance to beat the champion.
When trying to convince him to play the man, Dr. B, tells his story. The nazis captured him. Being valuable for them he is not put in a concentration camp but kept isolated in a hotel room. After some time in solitude his resistance begins to crumble and he almost tells the nazis everything the want to know.
One day he awaits another interogation. He has to spend a rather long time in a hallway – another trick of the nazis to drive him insane. When his minder doesn’t pay attention he steals a book from a coat hanging next to him. Filled with new energy and excitement he survives the interrogation and smuggels the book into his room. At first he is disappionted when it turnes out that the book is about chess. But then he starts to imagine parties and tries to play with himself. After some time he has a nervous breakdown and is taken to the hospital. The doctor explains that even in his half-unconcious state he mumbled things about chess.
For this reason Dr B agrees to play one game and one game only, as he doesn’t want to fall back into old patterns. But once he started playing he can’t stop. His opponent soon finds out how to drive him wild and takes advantage of the situation. After a few games and almost another nervous breakdown somebody takes Dr. B out, allowing him to rest.
At first I was really excited to read the novella as I heard a lot about it and wanted to read it for quiet some time. But unfortunately Stefan Zweig’s piece of literature could not live up to my expectations. The book is written very well but I never really got sucked in. The story didn’t capture or thrill me in any way. Furthermore, the last third of the book was rather forseeable. For me it held no surprises. Having read another book by Stefan Zweig, “Fear”, I was really expecting more from this novella. Considering the good reviews I read before and the level of awareness I didn’t think this story would be so average. It is a decent read, neatly written and the plot is not to bad but I’d rather read one of Stefan Zweig’s other stories than this one.