It's been a little while since I read Tilman Rammstedt's new novel Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters, so I don't want to tell you much about the plot. Basically, Tilmann Rammstedt is having trouble writing a novel and so turns to Bruce Willis (via email), whom he needs as a character in order to get his former adviser at the bank out of trouble. The bank guy is a bit of an odd fellow and now Tilmann Rammstedt wants Bruce to play his part in the novel and give him a bit of oomph, a bit more of a grubby-vest aesthetic. Adventures ensue. Terribly gripping adventures.
The resulting meta-novel is an action movie for writers. Money troubles, editor breathing down your neck, writer's block - who wouldn't turn to Bruce Willis for help? Rammstedt tells his story through his emails to Willis (will he ever answer?), recounting all the action Willis gets up to as a character alongside Tilman himself on the pages of the novel. He uses all his powers of persuasion to prompt the Bruce Willis of his imagination to get up to all kinds of shenanigans, several of them physically impossible, while assuming that the Bruce Willis of his imagination is extremely reluctant to do so.
This first, main strand is accompanied by a melancholy little story about the actual guy from the bank, who does some strange enough things in the book's second strand even before stepping up to the novel's next level. I hope I'm making this clear.
What compounded my confusion - and hence delight - was that I actually know Tilman Rammstedt vaguely and I'm currently translating his previous novel, Der Kaiser von China, a book that also gets up to a bit of nonsense with those narrative levels. Anyway, every time I saw Tilman Rammstedt over the past few months I'd ask him, So, how's the new book coming along?* And he'd say, Oh, not very well, I don't think I'll get it done on time. And he'd look a bit green about the gills as he said it.
So imagine my surprise to find the whole book was about how Tilman Rammstedt is having trouble getting his novel done on time. Imagine! My surprise! It messed with my head, let me tell you. Because either Tilman Rammstedt was telling the truth on both levels - in real life, plus in the novel about how he's having trouble writing a novel - or it was all an elaborate piece of performance art-slash-literature, in which the writer Tilman Rammstedt pretends to be having trouble writing a novel on two different levels. I can't decide which I would prefer.
Certainly, if the real-life Tilman Rammstedt was telling the truth, the writing hasn't suffered for being put down in a mad and desperate dash under daily duress from his editor, wife and bank adviser. No, wait, those three were fictional. Although one of them is a real person, with an email address given in the novel. I just sent a mail to see if it was a real address. I shall update you if I ever find out. Probably I should have sent it during office hours, right?**
I digress. But form follows function, so it's fine to digress in order to give you an idea of what this book might do to you. What I was saying was that the writing is good. Tilman has a great laconic style in the second strand, all matter-of-fact narrator. And he contrasts that with his highly emotive begging letters to Bruce Willis. Nicely done.
If I had to make a comparison, I'd say Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters is the book version of Being John Malkovich. All writers with a sense of humour will like it. And there's a cat on the cover.
*Sorry, Tilman. I now realise this is probably the second-awfullest question you can ever ask a writer. At least I didn't ask what it was about.
**It is. My head hurts. Don't send the poor guy any more manuscripts.