Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Overly Adoring Fans

I've noticed a strange phenomenon in several German books written by men. Let's call it the "adoring female fan" syndrome.

It first caught my attention in Ingo Schulze's award-winning Handy. Strangely, although I know John E. Woods has been translating it, the book is not yet available in English. Maybe later in the year. Anyway, one of the really rather good short stories is about an author on a reading tour in Egypt. Apart from playing with your mind by naming his translators John E. Woods (English) and Samir Grees (Arabic) and making it plain that the first-person narrator is very much himself, Schulze writes about his companion on the trip, Sheila:

Sheila and I had met at a reading in Koblenz at the end of 2003. She had joined us for a meal afterwards and subsequently accompanied me to my hotel, along with the bookseller. Could she have a look at my room and the view of the Rhine, she asked when I was saying goodbye. I really had been raving about the view of the Rhine.

Sheila is the archetypal adoring female fan, young and attractive and straight-forward, until she falls out of love with the author and into love with a young Egyptian, that is.

Then there's Selim Özdogan's slightly rambling novel Mehr. The narrator is a struggling author and has a fling with a female fan.

A woman with a bottle of beer in her hand came and stood next to me.
- I've read your books. Very good, I must say, I liked them a lot.
At first I didn't know what to say. It wasn't every day that someone came up and talked to me like that. I smiled at her.
- Glad to hear it.

But of course, he is wracked with guilt for cheating on his girlfriend (unlike in the story above, at least nominally) and it all ends in tears.

And then there's Maxim Biller's Liebe Heute. The short story collection will be published in English in June, translated by - you guessed it - Anthea "must be incredibly busy" Bell. I can't for the life of me find the reference now, but I remember reading there's a similar story in there. You get the message, author has sex with adoring female fan, it all goes wrong, cue melancholy ending. By the way, you can read an interview in English with Biller in the New Yorker here.

So there must be something behind it. Either German readings are a hotbed of hormonal activity, with attractive readers throwing themselves at their favourite writers like rock groupies, or that's every (male) writer's secret wish. I must pay more attention at the next one I attend...


Mike M said...

In Henry James' novella "The Art of the Master," the protagonist- an author- falls in love with an adoring fan, except that she's in love with an older author who our protagonist admires. Instead of sex there's marriage, and it's all covered up by musings on what it takes to make real art, but there is a similar theme.
So maybe it's not just Germans...

kjd said...

Aha! I wanted to say I suspect it's just a cheap male fantasy, but I'm currently reading Michael Hofmann's translation of "Child of All Nations" by Irmgard Keun - a woman. And the child narrator - a girl - tells us all about Fräulein Brouwer, an adoring fan of her author father. I don't know yet whether things will go pear-shaped or not.
So the evidence would seem to imply that it's a genuine international phenomenon. Now I'd be interested to find out whether the same thing happens to women writers...