Monday, 15 September 2008

My Take on the Longlist

There's nothing like a bout of unspecifiable illness to get you reading, is there? Especially if the main book you're reading is just too much to deal with when you're feeling all teary-eyed and emotional.

So thanks to a stray germ, dear readers, you can at last read my take on the German Book Prize longlist. I spent all day yesterday ploughing through my treasured copy of the longlist reader. It was all a bit of a sacrifice to be honest, because it smells really bad. Really starchy and unpleasant, not like a well-loved book should. To make up for it, the little portraits of the authors are beautifully done. None of your bog-standard "born in 1958, the author divides his time between Paris and Montevideo" business here. But I digress. Here, in all its bullet-pointed glory, is my highly subjective rundown of the tops and flops.

Lukas Bärfuss - Hundert Tage: Incredible. I'm reading the whole book right now, a very cleverly written and angry look at Switzerland's role in the Rwandan genocide. I'll write up a fuller review in due time.

Marcel Beyer - Kaltenburg: Certainly didn't get me "following spellbound the catastrophic course of events in 20th-century Germany." Possibly good reading material for ornithologists though.

Dietmar Dath - Die Abschaffung der Arten: This is very, very strange. The extract in the reader features a conversation between a wolf and a mutating bird-woman, who strokes the wolf's neck. It doesn't really give a very good idea of what the book might be like, or about for that matter. Vaguely Atwood-esque.

Karen Duve - Taxi: As you may be aware, I love this book. Nuff said.

Sherko Fatah - Das dunkle Schiff: Now I understand why everyone is raving about the book. The first extract in the reader took my breath away - beautifully written, interesting perspective, shocking events. The story of an Iraqi pulled into extremism. It's on my list.

Olga Flor - Kollateralschaden: Streams of consciousness at the supermarket. I found the subject of how mothers ought to deal with their children clumsily addressed in the extract and extremely irritating.

Norbert Gstrein - Die Winter im Süden: I nearly gave up on this one but it proved quite intriguing after a while. A woman's budding relationship with a 60s revolutionary, their boring marriage at the age of 50, some kind of secret to do with her father and Yugoslavia, simply narrated, humourous - perhaps one to read.

Peter Handke - Die morawische Nacht: Well he may have withdrawn it from the competition but if I was the judge it wouldn't have won anyway. Slow-moving autoerotic ego massage.

Iris Hanika - Treffen sich zwei: I was surprised to find myself enjoying the extract. The idea of the book hadn't really interested me - a debut novel about a love story in Kreuzberg - but the execution is rather charming. An amusingly angry computer whizz really drew me in, and I suspect the love aspect might be very effective.

Martin Kluger - Der Vogel, der spazieren ging: Hmmm. The extract is very evocative - a showbiz party in 60s (?) France. I can't tell anything about the rest of the book, though, which is apparently a multi-generational study of a Jewish family. Rather baffling.

Judith Kuckart - Die Verdächtige: The passage in the reader confirmed my liking for this crime novel of a love story. Great characterisation.

Rolf Lappert - Nach Hause schwimmen: Ireland. Strange old lady. Heavy on the cliché.

Norbert Nieman - Willkommen neue Träume: I don't think I liked this much, but I've forgotten almost everything about it. Apparently it's a clash of the generations in a village. Terribly poetic language.

Karl-Heinz Ott - Ob wir wollen oder nicht: Oh, I rather liked this. A thoroughly dislikeable narrator arrested for some crime or other. Witty, intelligent, plays on my sympathies.

Hans Pleschinski - Ludwigshöhe: Life's too short for sentences this difficult to untangle. So I didn't bother.

Ingo Schulze - Adam und Evelyn: Looks like classic Ingo Schulze stuff. Well told, good dialogue, interesting enough but it's not going to get your pulse racing.

Uwe Tellkamp - Der Turm: Everybody's raving. I'm snoring.

Uwe Timm - Halbschatten: Ooh, I like the look of this. An exploration of my local graveyard, featuring a suicidal woman pilot. Very sexy. Strange, confusing perspectives. I'm going to buy it.

Martin Walser - Ein liebender Mann: Old arrogant perv falls for 19-year-old beauty. Oh, did I mention that the old guy is Goethe? Martin Walser's latest riff on a familiar theme, fittingly conservative in tone and narration. Perhaps more up the alley of, ahem, older readers of the male persuasion.

Feridun Zaimoglu - Liebesbrand: They've been very clever and included the really excellent part of the book, its opening. Unfortunately, I found the rest of it rather dull.

So there you have it. My turbo-tour of the German Book Prize longlist. The shortlist will be announced on Wednesday.

4 comments:

David said...

Thanks for this. While "Ein liebender Mann" is more "up my alley", I've ordered the Timm book as well as "Hundert Tage".

kjd said...

It was a pleasure, and glad to see someone following my tips. Let's hope the power doesn't go to my head.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that you criticise the length of sentences in Ludwigshöhe but not in Treffen sich zwei. I found the whole "crawling eyes" thing in Treffen sich zwei bizarre, though everything else about the novel is brilliant - there are different levels to it also, which I picked up on my second reading. I'm still working my way through Ludwigshöhe - it is just sooooo long and has such a slow tempo as well.

Kerry

kjd said...

Perhaps it was just the sections I read. Glad to hear you liked Treffen sich zwei.