Sunday, 29 June 2008

After Klagenfurt

This weekend, Klagenfurt had a lot going on. Never mind CSD in Berlin and the small matter of a football match - it was literature all the way in Carinthia. In case you don't know, the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize is "one of the most important awards for Germanophone literature" (Wikipedia). It takes place once a year in Klagenfurt, Austria, and is accompanied by all sorts of goings-on. And what no English-language sources seem to tell you is that it's more for up-and-coming writers than for the established greats. Being "invited to Klagenfurt" is a big, big deal for a young writer, and the past winners are all very impressive.

I had planned to watch at least some of the competition on TV, but then life sort of took over. I did catch the live judging ceremony though - and it really wasn't good television. Lots of critics and authors fumbling with touchscreens and reading prepared statements that just sounded pretentious rather than anything else. The cameras didn't linger long enough on the nervous competitors for my taste as they sweated under the studio lights; instead there were long explanations of the voting process from a lawyer - albeit in a charming Austrian accent that I'm unable to place any more closely.

And of course I'm not entirely agreed with the results. I'm disappointed that no one was particularly impressed by Thorsten Palzhoff's text, Livia, which I thought had the most interesting narration and subject matter. And my personal winner would definitely have been Patrick Findeis, with his No Land More Lovely extract promising a great, oppressive novel about village life colliding with modern reality. The title (Kein schöner Land) is a play on a German folk song, by the way, and a cheesy TV show featuring Volksmusik mimed in front of rural landscapes. Findeis did win one of the prizes, though not the most financially valuable actual Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.

Tilman Rammstedt won that, plus the audience award, reaping in a total of € 31,000. Not bad, eh? His text, The Emperor of China, is nothing to sniff at but I found it strangely uncompelling - an extract from a novel that didn't make me want to read the book (apart from the charming idea of someone crawling around with kitchen sponges on their knees, that is). It seems fairly conventional, with only the Roald Dahl-ish grandfather character to write home about. Markus Orths won the quasi-second prize for The Chambermaid, which I did enjoy. A chambermaid gets up to all sorts of odd things in hotel rooms, although the extract didn't really tell us why or work up enough interest on my part to want to find out. I also find it tragically flawed by the fact that no chambermaid would have time to do all those strange things during her shift without getting fired within a week. But maybe nobody on the jury realised that - or maybe it just doesn't matter.

But who's asking me, anyway? What I'm really pleased about is the fact that the Bachmann Prize has "gone Europe", as they say. The website has the chuzpe to assume that everyone in the world knows what this award is, but otherwise a lot of work has gone into making it multilingual. It must have been a huge task to coordinate the translations of the fourteen texts and all the little reports over the past few weeks, plus the more frequent updates over the weekend. And those translations were into six languages - no mean feat. I must say I found the English versions very good, although the punctuation was sometimes slightly skewiff.

I'd be interested to find out how the whole thing has gone down in the non-German-speaking world, so I hope they'll publish some kind of audience figures at some point. At the very least, they've provided an opportunity for writers in German to reach readers of Czech, English, French, Italian, Slovenian and Spanish. And that's a great achievement.

No comments: