I mentioned some time ago that Zoran Drvenkar's novel Sorry was one of the books I was looking forward to at the start of this year. The publishers have gone to a lot of trouble to advertise it (including the flashy microsite linked above) and it seems to have worked very well - Drvenkar is pretty much everywhere you look at the moment.
The book is billed as a "thriller like a bad dream", and I'd say that sums it up rather well. I'm a big fan of his children's books and enjoyed Drvenkar's debut novel for adults, Du bist zu schnell, because it's the story of a fucked-up kid who sees things - or does she? – and it really messed with my mind. As did Sorry, which I suppose must be a good thing.
The book is about a group of friends who set up an agency for apologies - hence the title. But then someone commissions them to apologise to a corpse. And to get rid of the body on his behalf. Drvenkar has set the book firmly in Berlin, but it's a city with a raw underbelly of violence and child abuse. The author throws up questions about guilt and innocence, right and wrong. In an interview with the booksellers' mag Börsenblatt, he says writing the book really took it out of him. I can only say that reading it wasn't exactly a walk in the park, either.
Drvenkar constructs the novel very cleverly, playing hide and seek with the reader. Some sections are narrated in the first person, some address the reader directly as "you" - sucking you in to the kind of action I for one didn't want to feel involved in. Some of it is in the third person, but you still don't always know who's who. The characters we can identify are like old friends - lovingly sketched with all their faults. And the characters we can't identify are incredibly threatening.
This is, as everyone seems to agree, an extraordinarily good thriller in the style of the American greats. It works as a piece of well thought-out literature as well. But what it really excels at is churning up your insides as you read about murder and child abuse. There were a number of times I felt genuinely sick to my stomach - not because Drvenkar describes physical abuse; he pans out at key moments there. But because he details the psychological side of it, the continuities, the perverse ties between victims and perpetrators. In the interview, he closes:
What adults do to each other is a book of its own, but what they do to children is an affront to life itself in my eyes. There is no excuse for child abuse.
That message certainly comes across in Sorry. Not for the weak-stomached.