Friday, July 04, 2008
German gothic from Andrea Maria Schenkel
I have a question for those familiar with the range of German crime fiction. It seems to me that crime fiction in German is more likely to be in the category of psychological thriller than police procedural or detective story (the prominent exceptions that I know of are the excellent detective novels of Jakob Arjouni and the single cop story thus far translated by Pieke Bierman). The recently released translation of Andrea Maria Schenkel's The Murder Farm is both an illustration and an exception to the psycho-thriller sort of thing that I'm referring to. I've also discussed a number of other German thrillers in earlier posts. Schenkel's is different from the others in its transformations of what in the U.S. would be called "Southern Gothic," basically the straitened lives and exaggerated relationships of rural people, and the folk tale tradition that in English is mis-named "fairy tales" (I think in German they're called "Märchen"--correct me if I'm wrong). The Murder Farm has the inevitability and spookiness of Märchen from folk tales through the Grimms. It's told in short chapters that alternate between witness testimony and third-person interior monologues from the point of view of various witnesses or bystanders to the murder of a whole family on a remote farm (after a first chapter from the point of view of an unnamed former resident of the nearby town who is returning to find out what happened, when the police failed to resolve the matter--the witness testimony that follows is presumably collected by him, and perhaps the narratives are surmised by him, but the source is vague). The jigsaw-puzzle effect is very suitable to the horrible crime and the Gothic setting, and the testimony chapters are just long enough (longer and the narrow points of view of some of the speakers might have gotten tedious--at the length Schenkel gives them, their fascinating). What emerges is a not-very-optimistic view of human nature in general and of the post-war era in particular (the events occur 10 years after WWII). Not as dark as, say, The Painted Bird, but reaching toward a view of evil as an inherent possibility in human life and society (even in small groups). The flyleaf blurb says that the ending is "shattering," a somewhat inflated pitch for the resolution of the plot: I'd say "convincing," in laying the blame on the individual responsible, but in a tone similar to that of the novel as a whole rather than reaching a new emotional pitch. So: you readers of German crime, let us know: is The Murder Farm (or Petra Hammesfahr or Ingrid Noll) more typical of German crime fiction than Arjouni or Bierman?