So this year was the third time the German independent publishers got together to crown their best book under the slightly absurd title of Hotlist, once again with an awards ceremony embedded within the indie party at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
It was a very strong, eclectic shortlist and the prize went to Nino Haratischwili for her novel Mein sanfter Zwilling. I really enjoyed her debut Juja (see my review) and am looking forward to this one. Her new publishers Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, however, aren't doing her any favours with this blurb: "Nino Haratischwili presents a novel that combines both her dramatic and
narrative skills with a language that is pervaded by Georgian passion
und images." Presumably they suppose Georgian passion to be different to common or garden passion, but whatever. Congratulations are definitely in order for this very talented writer.
And now for word or two on the event itself. I go to a lot of literary events, and this was one of the piss-poorest in a long time. One problem was the venue - Frankfurt's Sinkkasten was plainly too small for the number of people who wanted to come, which resulted in a block-long queue at around 11 pm. Quite a lot of people gave up and went away again. Also, there was only one large room (rather reminiscent of a 1980s suburban disco, but I mean that in an affectionate way) unless you wanted to stand like a sardine in the smoking lounge, so there was no escaping problem two: the Icelandic techno DJ combined with the space's appalling acoustics. Which meant that we were treated to teeth-juddering bass all around the edges of the space and every track sounded exactly the same as the one before and after it. And also, as the evening progressed the room emptied of literary folk and filled up slightly with club regulars in brown leather jackets, busily attempting to hit on the ladies. Who didn't really appreciate their efforts.
Before that, however, came the awards ceremony. I'd throughly enjoyed last year's and had been looking forward to the 2011 version - until I heard that Charlotte Roche would be doing the honours with Jakob Augstein. Gosh - two of my least favourite persons from the margins of German literary life - on one stage! So it was no great shame that my friends and I were unable to see or hear anything at all of the ceremony from our distant vantage point. I did have a brief peek as things got exciting, only to see them both sitting down at a table, transmitting an air of bored irony and mispronouncing authors' names. There was none of last year's playful tension and reverence - in fact a friend I caught leaving in disgust said their ironic show had been unworthy and disrespectful to the excellent books they were supposed to be showcasing. And that was a great, great shame.
I did manage to have a rather rollicking evening despite all this, however, by dint of imbibing a great deal of gin and perching on a raised seat right by the entrance, where my friends and I pounced on people we knew coming in and going out. The effect was that at the end of the night I felt like an absolute diva, what with everybody filing past and being forced to pay their respects to the drunken queens of literary translation. And we also had a lot of fun critiquing everyone else's outfits, as you might expect. May I just say one thing on this topic: red jackets may be cool, but elbow patches just scream "English teacher". Not a good look, especially for the follically challenged.
Plenty of room for improvement next year, let's say.