This is the classic you’ve been waiting to discover. Editorial assistant Nick Sheerin writes about ‘wallpapering’ and why The Walk by Swiss author Robert Walser is one of the great works of European short fiction.

When Robert Walser died alone in a field of snow after a long walk on Christmas Day, 1956, he had spent the previous twenty five years – a third of his life – voluntarily committed to the Waldau psychiatric hospital. Praised at the start of his career by the great and the good of the German-speaking literary world, his star had so waned by the time of the original publication of Christopher Middleton’s brilliant English translation of The Walk in 1955 that Walser’s response to the news was ‘Well, look at that.’

Walser, to be sure, was never the most natural self-promoter. Characteristically underplaying his talents, he described himself as ‘a kind of artisan novelist’. Equating Walser with, say, an eccentric Dorset winemaker may seem crass, but not as far wide of the mark as it first sounds – the stories included in The Walk are technically peerless, limited-production gems, and you’d certainly be hard-pressed to pick something remotely similar from amongst the rows of the latest vintage of creative writing graduates.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons Walser has slipped off the radar is that he is much more fun to read than write about. From riffs on the benefits or otherwise of women’s trousers to fictional job applications, many of the pieces in The Walk brook sensible categorisation. Others, like the titular novella itself, are so brilliantly borderline-banal in their depictions of life’s small joys and secret humiliations that they lose the greater part of their charm when spoken of in the abstract.

In another magnificently ambivalent estimation of his own work, Walser described his writing as ‘wallpapering’. Perhaps there’s a grain of truth there; but what a strange and wonderful wallpaper this kaleidoscope of intricately detailed miniatures makes! John Burnside once said that Walser ‘was one of those individuals who stand at a slight angle to the world’; which is to say, he makes you ask: is the kaleidoscope the right way up?