Original title: Směna
A keen-eyed debut novel
The protagonist is a young artist called Petra, who is struggling to reconcile her wish to make it as an artist with rejection of everything connected with her initial life choice. Her memories of her studies in painting, which did much to shape the way she is now, remain as keen as ever. Her present includes an arduous, tedious, joyless job as a supermarket cashier, to which pragmatic considerations have driven her. Evocative description of these two contrasting worlds provides an unusual perspective on Petra’s inner struggle and much else besides. Running through the work is a revelatory plotline detailing the passion with which one can immerse oneself in art. The author poses essential questions about the purity of creation on one hand and human relations on the other. This is no story of escape; it is a successful exploration of the gap between relationships and self-expression. It describes the human as a fragile being bound to collide with obstacles of globalization, solitude and fate. Recognition, understanding and acceptance are one thing, but effecting change is quite another.
‘Force is all that is left.’ So concludes this first work of fiction by an author hitherto known for her remarkable, often surprising take on a wide range of topical themes and genres.
"The Shift is a novel that ranks among the upper echelons of literary fiction.
This is certainly not the last we’ve heard of Anna Beata Háblová. The Shift is a novel that you don’t often come across in Czech prose work these days: It doesn’t go in for overdone, tear-jerking themes and gripping storylines, but it does succeed in working with language, imagination and narration. It doesn't condescend, it doesn't lower the bar and yet it manages to remain comprehensible, topical and urgently relevant."
Alena Šidáková Fialová, Tvar
"The narration itself is so vivid that the reader will not even ask for relationship or social dramas.
A highly convincing variation on the theme of the conflict between youthful ideals and the reality of life."
Petr A. Bílek, Respekt
"The book is a beautiful, sad song about the lost time that is slipping through our fingers."
Marek Torčík, Irozhlas.cz
"Anna Beata Háblová has written a prose work with a secret. In it, she observes human types, she observes herself, she observes the world around her and the world of art, which endeavours to work with all this. (…) It is a text that is unassuming, centripetal, subtly dreamy and poetic. Masterfully constructed. And under all the heroine's nervousness and insecurity there is a little hope."
Radim Kopáč, Lidové noviny
"Háblová very skilfully and delicately presents topics that come up quite often at the sociological-documentary level: questions about the dignity of working conditions and social class inequalities. However, her prose does not appear to be first and foremost activist, because criticism of either of the environments that the protagonist constantly oscillates between is ultimately not the main concern of the book. Or definitely not the only one.
Anna Beata Háblová combines all the layers and interweaves them with her evocative language."
Klára Fleyberková, Host
"Anna Beata Háblová is a poet and architect who has published several collections and a book about the “unplaces” of cities and the architecture of shopping centres. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her debut novel The Shift takes place primarily in a supermarket setting.
(…) “When you work as a shop assistant, you stop seeing people as people. They just turn into one more item you have to check out,” says [chief protagonist] Petra in the book’s introduction.
The Shift is a novel full of alienation, but also beauty, mainly thanks to Háblová's depictive language. Reading it is like walking through a supermarket full of poems."
Jonáš Zbořil, Seznam zprávy
"Háblová is well able to present the monotony of Petra’s days behind the cash register very evocatively, letting them sublimate into conscious detachment from herself and the world around her. Hence one of the central themes of her novel is this alienation from her own life and her lack of will and courage to seize hold of it again."
Lucie Kukačková, DeníkN
"This superb narrative brings together daily trudging round the store with a full bladder, reflections on the art scene, an almost detective-like search for Petra’s painting, and a past from which both ex-boyfriend Adam and a big bogeyman emerge. (….) In the end, one of the most convincing fiction debuts of the year emerges from this fairly unassuming prose."
Kryštof Eder, Reflex
"A story about the fragility of a modern-day young woman whose flight makes her inevitably bump into the glass of globalized alienation, her own loneliness and destiny."
Taťána Kročková, Kultura 21
"Writer Anna Beata Háblová presents the daily routine in the life of a person who would like to fulfil her dreams, though she has no energy, motivation or desire left to do so... (...) The Shift is a sad novel about coming to terms with a life the chief protagonist never wanted to live. (…)
The great thing about this book overall is that the author does not directly present the reader with its questions and motifs, (…) but they slowly reveal themselves like a lover taking off her clothes little by little and tempting him to the hot skin hiding beneath.
What is more, all this is spiced up by the chief protagonist’s relationship issues, a relentless family tragedy that brings tears to the eyes years later, and a dramatic storyline teetering on the brink of criminality."
Wendy Šimotová, Kulturne.com