The German Literature month has given me a wonderful opportunity to read three authors who had long been on my wishlist.
Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek (2009)
‘Back to the default position?’ said Marc. ‘A total reset?’
Marc Lucas is a psychiatrist who has enough problems of his own. A few months prior to the beginning of the novel, Marc and his wife, Sandra, met with an accident that killed the latter. Now Marc cannot get it out of his mind that he was driving the car and that his wife was pregnant. Filled with guilt, Marc doesn’t know what to do when he meets a person who takes him to a clinic where they wipe off the traumatic memories of their patients. Does Marc want to do that? He can live a happy, normal life without the guilt eating him up. Marc wants to think things over but when he returns to his flat, he cannot get in and the woman who opens the door finally is his wife who doesn’t recognize him; he also finds that he cannot get in his office; his credit-cards do not work; all the addresses and numbers on his mobile phone have been wiped off. Just what is happening? Have the clinic people experimented on him, without his knowledge? He meets a woman who tells him that she too is a victim of the clinic and takes him to a hotel but he finds that she too is betraying him. But is she? What is happening and what role do his father-in-law, a renowned doctor, and brother Benny, who has just come out of a mental-asylum, play in all this?
There are books which are absolutely unputdownable but even in all that immersion you nonetheless start asking yourself whether the author would be able to give a convincing explanation for everything that’s happening. This is one such book and unfortunately Fitzek does not come up with a good ending. It was so banal and so much of a let-down.
First Line: ‘What do you think?’
Original Title: Splitter
First Published: 2009
Translator: John Brownjohn
The Girl Who Wasn’t There by Ferdinand von Schirach (2013)
He would begin his life, and she would go on with hers. That was what they had decided, and now it was stupid to wonder whose fault it was.
Sebastian von Eschburg, is a lonely and neglected child of a dreamer of a father and a practical mother who have drifted apart. In childhood, he is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland and when once he is back home during vacations, his father, commits suicide and some time later his mother marries again with somebody who must be the crassest person I have ever come across. (How could the mother marry such a person, I’ll never understand). Sebastian grows up to be a photographer who specializes in photographs of nude women done in an artistic manner though I am not so sure from the descriptions provided but anyway. He also gets into a relationship with Sofia, who works in one of the firms or galleries that is interested in Sebastian’s art. Then Ferdinand is arrested for having murdered a girl. Did he? He calls in a defence lawyer who asks the most pertinent of questions: Where is the corpse?
In its beginning, the novel reminded me of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks and it came to a shock to me that it was set in contemporary times. There is a slow movement in the novel initially and the loneliness of a child is well-depicted, esp when he sees his mother driving away without even looking back:
She can’t wave goodbye because of all the traffic, he thought, as he watched her drive away.
or when he implores his dead father to come back:
‘You’d better come home now’, he said. ‘I can’t manage this on my own.’
But the novel just falls apart in the second half. I liked the dilemma raised by the torture scene but otherwise the novel with some existential issue about reality and perception did not work for me though I liked certain lines as this:
…he waited for the silence between the sentences they uttered, which was the only measurement of proximity to another human being.
First Line: On a fine spring day in the year 1838, a new kind of reality was created on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris.
Original Title: Tabu
First Published: 2013
Translator: Anthea Bell
The Stranger Upstairs by Melanie Rabbe (2016)
It’s as if you’d died and then risen from the dead only to discover that the world is perfectly capable of turning without you. That no one really misses you. That you’re not only dispensable – you’re superfluous.
Seven years ago, Sarah Petersen’s husband, Philip disappeared on a business trip to South America. Over the years, Sarah has slowly rebuilt her life with the help of her friends. She has even entered into a relationship with her colleague Mirko, who she feels would be a good father to her son, Leo who was just a toddler when Philip went missing. However, as she is about to free herself from the past, she receives a call from a government officer who informs her that Philip has been found and is returning home. Amongst the media hullabaloo, Philip and Sarah meet but in the cacophony nobody hears Sarah saying that the man in front of her is not her husband, Philip. A cat-and-mouse game starts between Sarah and this stranger because Sarah simply cannot call up the police. What secret of her does this stranger know? And what has happened to Philip?
This is again a book which promises a lot but is unable to deliver. And there were many things in the book that I found hard to accept. On top of it, Sarah was an unlikable character. In fact, the stranger had my sympathies. I also was surprised when Sarah and the stranger are able to travel in a metro without purchasing a ticket. In India, one has to have a ticket in the form of either a token or a pass.
First Line: The world is black.
Original Title: Die Wahreit
First Published: 2016
Translator: Imogen Taylor
Alternate Title: The Stranger
One thing that I found in all these books was that there was nothing exclusively German about them. Put the characters in any western metropolis and the story would read the same. It is, of course, nothing to find fault with but since I was reading them for the German literature month, I had really hoped that I would find something about Germany. And though this might sound silly, even the names of the characters (except for Sebastian’s) did not have a teutonic ring.
All in all, this was not a very good introduction to German crime writing but these books and writers have garnered a lot of praise, so perhaps it is just me.