Mister Clemens Meyer read at the Literary Colloquium last night.
I went along, accompanied in the carriage out to Wannsee by fourteen chatty nuns, all with matching glasses and black handbags. It was not unlike a small outing of septuagenarian schoolgirls. The sun was still shining as I arrived, and I settled down in a seat next to four young Finns - or perhaps Hungarians. Mister Clemens Meyer arrived late, as usual, but the weather had put the audience in a conciliatory mood, and there was little shuffling of impatient feet.
And I have to say it was worth the wait - this time. In the past, I've seen Meyer reading and it's been a very mixed experience. If he doesn't like the person interviewing or introducing him, he seems to have no qualms about showing it. If he finds the questions put to him banal or unintelligent, he lets you know. I once went to a reading where he checked his mobile for text messages during the Q&A session. But if he feels comfortable with his interlocutor, you'd better fasten your seatbelt - because you're in for a very exciting ride.
The woman at the steering wheel last night was Ina Hartwig of the Frankfurter Rundschau. And she had Mister Meyer very firmly under control. They were obviously comfortable sharing a stage, and she had obviously done her homework very well. It seemed almost as if they were just picking up the thread from a past conversation. He read Die Flinte, die Laterne und Mary Monroe and to finish off part of Wir reisen. In between, Hartwig got an extraordinary amount of information out of him.
We found out how the first story came about - a friend told him about a man they both vaguely knew and how he'd ended up in jail. And Meyer added the air gun ("I've got one in my bedroom...") and Marilyn. Hartwig asked a question that made me look like a complete ballistics expert in comparison, but I can't tell you what it was unless you've read the story already. I laughed out loud, although there weren't many other ballistics experts in the house, judging by the lack of reaction all around me. She asked him about how his success has affected him, and whether he'd stay true to "the milieu". Which sent Mister Meyer into a bit of a tizz - of course he couldn't have written about an artist or a wine salesman three years ago, and he was at pains to point out he was wearing an Armani shirt - albeit with a Schimanski jacket over it when he arrived. But he still has his old friends and still goes drinking with them. It all sounded a bit like a pop star who's made it big claiming he still goes down his old local with the lads. Although I did once see Ronnie Woods in a pub, so maybe it's not all a myth.
There was some background information too. His father, a nurse from a family of farm workers, instilled him with a love of books. His grandparents on his mother's side were artists in the GDR. He lived fifteen minutes' walk from three libraries as a child. And some serious litcrit - Genet is "too gay" for him, but Wir reisen is super-gay. They talked a bit about his story Der Dicke liebt, in which an obese teacher develops a fatherly love for one of the girls he teaches - and is condemned by the world around him. Apparently, reactions have been mixed - some saying it's a gift to paedophiles, others (mostly women) seeing that it's not about that.
Whereas in the past I have come away from his readings convinced of Meyer's talent but thoroughly put off his person, this time was different. He seemed genuinely likeable, genuinely troubled by the way people put him into a certain category - the literary representative of the "underclass". All that showing off of his tattoos back in 2006 might not have been such a good idea after all. Several times, he banged his hand on the table and reminded himself not to overdo the pathos. He seemed comfortable enough in the opulent surroundings, hemmed in by photos of other writers - though I noticed they have taken all the pictures of women down since I was last there. He joked about reading stories about drugs and sex on the Wannsee - and I left with a smile on my face.
And - what a coincidence - the new issue of the Brooklyn Rail's InTranslation features one of the stories from Die Nacht, die Lichter. It probably won't make you feel all warm inside, though. Sorry about that.