This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Old Age

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Fear Dirk Kurbjuweit

You’d die for your family.

But would you kill for them?

Fear is a fascinating novel to read in today’s climate of gun debate, and if you are interested in the real-life background which inspired Kurbjuweit, there is a great Guardian article by him here.  The situation in the novel is, of course, totally different from America’s horror story, but the ‘us against them’ trope is firmly relevant here.  When we rely on the law to solve our problems and the law fails us, what do we do?

Randolph Tiefenethaler lives with his wife and two children in a Berlin apartment.  Their life is largely pleasant: they love their children and are comfortably off due to Randolph’s architecture career.  However, their neighbour in the basement decides that they are sexually abusing their children.  What’s more, he is also in love with Randolph’s wife.  They seek legal advice and tell the police; they also offer to buy the neighbour’s apartment.  We are always being told that ‘money talks’.  But in Fear, ultimately, money means very little: it buys you neither peace nor happiness.  But a gun? Now you’re talking.   But who is to do the murder?  Randolph, a father of young children, or his elderly father, an avid collector of weapons?

The Australian edition of Fear

The ‘monster in the basement’ is not only their stalker neighbour, but also a metaphor for the couple’s various fears: for Randolph, that he does not love his wife anymore, that she is, in fact, abusing their children, and that he is becoming his father; for his wife, that Randolph is an abuser, that he does not love her anymore, and that she will never craft out a career for herself.

I was hoping, from seeing the cover, that Fear would be more a fast-paced, than psychological, thriller, and for me, the twist was unsurprising.  But is remains an original and brave work.

Fear works backwards, much like Amis’s Time’s Arrow.  It is not so much a whodunnit, as a whydunnit – indeed, some might call it a whydidyounotdoitsooner?  You will have to read the novel and decide for yourself what you think.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Three Things About Elsie.jpgThere are three things you should know about Joanna Cannon.

1)  She wrote her first novel, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, on breaks from her psychiatrist job and at Crazy O’Clock in the morning.  Haven’t read it? Where have you been?!

2) She trained to be a doctor in her thirties whilst working in a pizza shop to support herself.  Yes, not only is she a sickeningly talented writer, she is brainy AF too.

3) Having been assessed by several professionals, it was found that she did not meet the criteria to be diagnosed with Difficult Second Novel Syndrome.

That’s right, folks – Joanna has done it again.  I was slightly concerned on seeing the novel’s cover, as a non-lover of Battenberg, that the marzipan-covered cake would play a central role in the book.  Also, given its setting in sheltered accommodation, would the novel itself be one giant Battenberg – pretty on the outside, but sickly sweet to consume?  I was wrong to have this fear.  For our protagonist, Florence, and her friends Elsie and Jack, are not remotely twee, nor is the mystery in which they find themselves.

The novel begins, like Eliot’s poem, at the end.  Florence has had a fall, and from her horizontal position, considers her life’s trajectory.   Most of her thoughts are about her childhood: her lifelong friend, the eponymous Elsie, who always knows the right thing to say, Elsie’s Old Woman in the Shoe style family, with her numerous siblings, and the tragedy with which she has still not come to terms.  Much of the novel’s humour derives from the setting, Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly, which, despite the name, has a distinct lack of fruit trees, a largely absent owner, the somewhat delicate Miss Bissell, and a typically patronising range of activities on offer (accordion afternoons, anyone?).  What cuts through the potentially all-consuming sentimentality is the arrival of a figure from Florence’s past.  Is he who he claims to be, or is he, in fact, the evil Ronnie Butler?  Florence, Elsie and Jack make it their mission to find out, a mission which takes them geographically to Whitby, and emotionally to hell.

Three Things About Elsie took me a few pages to get into.  But like an initially cool bed, once you warm up, you will cocoon yourself in its duvet and never want to leave.  Just make sure you take sweet tea and fig rolls with you. (I’m still not touching Battenberg – sorry, Joanna!)