Wednesday, 21 March 2012


I was at a very entertaining event last night - the German writer Felicitas Hoppe reading from her autobiography Hoppe. Hmmm, writers' autobiographies... perhaps not the most exciting genre in the literary world. "I got up, I had breakfast, I wrote, I had lunch, I did a bit of shopping, I wrote, I read a book, I went to bed." Alternatively, "I got up, I had breakfast, I couldn't write, I had lunch, I pulled my hair out in front of the computer..."

Alright, I'll stop now. I've already been accused of knowing nothing about writers' lives and I'll readily admit it. But you get the point, right? Despite the aura of intellectual glamour surrounding them at readings and events, despite all the "F*ck me Ray Bradbury" and "Hot chicks with glasses rapping about bookstores" videos, most writers probably don't have the kind of lives you'd want to read a whole book about. Unless they're Joseph Roth maybe. Thankfully, Felicitas Hoppe hasn't written a factual autobiography, she's written the autobiography she wishes she had. And to make sure we get it, she wrote it in the third person - hence the title, Hoppe, which is the name she gives to her heroine.

So she chose two places she barely knows, Canada and Australia, and refigured her origins as an only child with an absent-minded inventor as a father. Modelled on Uncle Quentin from the Famous Five novels – who's pretty much a blank canvas characterwise, what with being created by Enid Blyton. There's lashings of ice hockey and inventions but basically the book consists of a series of love stories, she told us, all stitched together by passages on board ships to the next exotic location. She read one extract set in Australia in which a teenage Hoppe meets a young man and lets him lead her around town only to find that he's blind and has no idea where they are either. Except that it was in the form of a story written by Hoppe - who is of course a German writer - with the narrator commenting scathingly on Hoppe's habit of lifting geographical details straight from the Baedeker.

All in all it was great fun. Very intelligent, very writerly with all those delightful twists and turns and references back and forth between reality and fantasy and fantasy fantasy like in the Hoppe character's writing. And very very funny. Just as an aside, Hoppe works so well as a comedic name - for me at least - because it sounds ever so slightly silly. I'm not sure whether that's the influence of English though. Whatever the case, you ought to read this book for the sheer joy of an invented life that's just that bit more out of the ordinary than most fictional lives. And now I'm going back in the jacuzzi with the Beastie Boys  - guys, don't eat all the pizza before I get there!

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