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.


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.


kjd said...

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