Thursday, August 26, 2010
A forgotten post for forgotten friday: A bit of German noir
Less than a month after I started this blog, just over five years ago, I mentioned a couple of distinctive German novels in the noir tradition. Since my original post is surely forgotten by everyone by now, I'm reviving and adapting it a bit for Foreign Forgotten Friday, and including several covers for the two books, since the various covers are unusually evocative. So here goes:
There are a couple of very dark non-detective novels of post-unification Germany: Rain, by Karen Duve, published in 1999 and in English translation by Anthea Bell in 2002, is a gloomy, grotesque tale of a loser who agrees to ghost-write a gangster's memoir, and takes his beautiful wife to a cabin in the former East, where he can live cheaply while working on the book. Rain, damp, and ensuing slugs (lots and lots of them) and other horrors intervene in his plans, resulting in a grotesque, skin-crawling allegory of postmodern life in general and German life in particular, post reunification. The tale is gross, comic, disgusting, and fascinating.
One of the German reviewers invoked Elmore Leonard to describe the deadpan dialogue, and the U.K. publisher (Bloomsbury) invoked Carl Hiassen to describe the comedy, but Duve's comedy goes beyond both of those estimable models with muck, slugs, a central character as slimy as the slugs, a dangerous case of writers' block, an impatient gangster, and a pair of odd avenging spinsters.
So far as I can tell, Duve has only one other translated novel, This is Not a Love Story, which sounds like a creepy black comedy about an overweight heroine, and unapproachable love interest, and an infamous England-Germany World Cup match.
A less compelling but more pleasant dark comedy can be found in Christoph Hein's Willenbrock, which deals with crime and ultimately murder, but in a flat, laconic style more geared toward a literary audience than a genre crowd. Willenbrock is a former Easterner making a go of it as a used car entrepreneur in the new Germany, but confronted by social ills and tensions that are both new and age-old among the Germans.
Most of the novel and most of the comedy is in the mirroring of everyday life in the used car business, which is also the source of the threat and the crime. Willenbrock might be a good way to ease your way back into normality after the excesses and grotesqueries of Rain: but it's probably Rain that will stick in your mind (whether for its pleasures or its disgusting bits).
Of the covers I've pasted in here, the two on Willenbrock show the cinematic and the quotidian aspects, and the two on Rain suggest the disgusting bits. All are effective.