“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer (2017)

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“From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.”

The advice for dealing with your problems is often to suck it up and deal with them as best you can, rather than hiding away under the duvet, never mind which you’d rather do. I, however, am of the belief that aside from things like earthquakes, forest fires, or the person you were about to break up with kneeling in front of you with a wedding ring in hand, there aren’t many problems you can run away from, just for a little bit, or just until you’re stronger and have been able to regroup your thoughts. Arthur Less, the hero of this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, appears to be of a similar opinion.

Less is about to turn fifty and not handling it very well. His publisher has just turned down his latest novel, and the man he loved for nine years is about to marry someone else. When Less receives an invitation to the wedding, he is faced with a conundrum. If he accepts, it would be too awkward. If he turns it down, it looks like defeat. Instead, he turns to a stack of other invitations he’s been ignoring; an interview panel in New York, an article in Japan, a series of lectures in Germany, an award ceremony in Italy. Apologising that he’ll be out of the country, Less heads off on a world tour.

You can, however, only run so far, and Less discovers that maybe he’s not so happy away from the action. As he catapults himself across continents, he finds himself continually struggling against misunderstandings, language barriers, lost suitcases and the barbed comments of old acquaintances. And rumours follow him too, of a scandal at the wedding he’s missing, but no one will tell him what happened. Less is left with a lot of time to think about his past and what really matters in life.

Simultaneously tragic and comical, it’s rare that a comic novel wins such a prestigious award. It’s not a fast book, and reads rather like much other literary fiction, but in a delightful twist of fate, it actually has some jokes in it. Less is immensely likeable – an innocent, sweet and nice man, who is beset by misfortune as wherever he arrives he gets the wrong end of the stick, loses something important, mistakes a situation, and is never on time to see or experience the best of the place he’s at. For example, he’s in Mexico on the day their grandest museum is closed. He’s too early in Japan for the cherry blossom, and too late in Germany for the autumn festivals.

As Less puts more and more distance between himself and the problems he’s trying to ignore, they do their best to make sure he can’t forget about them entirely. Indeed, the further away he goes, the more intense his emotions become. He tries to have affairs, and works on his rejected novel, but mostly he worries about his age. Fifty isn’t particularly old, especially not today, but at one point he laments that being fifty is like you’ve only just understood youth, and then it’s snatched away from you, like how on the last day of a holiday you finally work out where to get the best lunch or see the best views, but it’s too late and you’ll never be going back. Greer paints beautiful landscapes too, making the cities that Less visits a big part of the story in themselves, almost characters too.

While it is funny, above all I found the book very poignant. I came close to tears a few times with the sheer sadness and feeling of loss and loneliness that saturates the pages. Those around Less aren’t nearly as sympathetic as he is, adding to how alone he feels surrounded by people he views as being more attractive, more successful and more wanted than he is. He’s one of the most endearing characters I’ve come across all year, and I feel a huge amount of affection for him. The novel ends with several unanswered questions, and I really do hope that he is happy once the book is over. But it’s not for us to see.

Charming, funny and very moving.

“Passenger To Frankfurt” by Agatha Christie (1970)

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“Fasten your seat-belts, please.”

Some things get better with age; a fine wine, a smelly cheese, unwashed jeans. Other things are better then they’re younger, and I hate to be the one to say this given my overwhelming love of her, but Agatha Christie is definitely part of the latter group. It’s suggested now that by the end of her life she was suffering from Alzheimer’s, but it was never diagnosed at the time. It’s without question though that even for a fan, her later books simply do not stack up to the earlier ones. I’ve noted this before with Postern of Fate and Nemesis, but I think it’s especially evident here.

The story begins with diplomat Sir Stafford Nye flying home from Malaya. His plane is rerouted, and while waiting for the next connection, he is approached by a woman who wishes to borrow his passport and cloak so that she can get home safely and avoid the people who are trying to kill her. Nye decides that his life needs a touch of excitement, and agrees.

However, without knowing, he has endangered his own life, and a while later he meets the woman again, although this time she has an entirely different name and it’s quite clear he’s not meant to acknowledge their having met before. Soon, Nye is caught up in an international mystery that will take him and his new companion around the world on the hunt of an invisible and dangerous enemy. There is much danger afoot, with stories that the student protests going on around the world have a much more sinister motive. And could it be that the rumours are true – did Adolf Hitler really survive the war?

This book was released for Christie’s eightieth birthday and it makes me wonder if people were now too afraid to edit her, given her reputation as such a great author. Robert Barnard, crime writer and critic, noted; “Prizes should be offered to readers who can explain the ending.” Unfortunately, I have to agree with him. The novel bounces around a whole host of characters, many of whom seem to have more than one alias (although that might just be me being confused) and covers all manner of topics. The beginning is engaging enough, but I found my attention wandering quite a lot until you reach a point over halfway through when you’re wondering why they’re talking about Hitler’s possible son who was raised in Argentina with a swastika branded on his foot and why no one’s been killed in an old country house.

One particularly notable inclusion is Mr Robinson, a secretive financier who seems to have fingers in a lot of pies and knows a lot about the world’s money. He is notable in that he ties together much of Agatha Christie’s fictional universe, having had dealings with Poirot, Marple and Tommy & Tuppence over the years. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book isn’t actually part of the story. It features an introduction in which Christie herself explains to the reader how she would ideally answer anyone who asks her, “Where do you get your ideas from?” As a writer myself, I found it honest and hilarious.

There’s a touch of fantasy about this one, and it’s all a little strange and unwieldy. A completist would, of course, find it necessary to read this, but in general, Christie’s novels of the 1970s are not ones you’d ever really recommend. They can’t all be winners, I suppose.

 

“The Man In The High Castle” by Philip K. Dick (1962)

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A chilling alternate world

A chilling alternate world

“For a week Mr R Childan had been anxiously watching the mail.”

It’s been a busy week so it’s taken me longer than usual to plow through a relatively small book. What with the Olympics, the wedding of one of my best friends, the necessary post-wedding day of recovery, illness and the fact I’ve been getting through two books at the same time (the second to come soon), it’s taken me longer than I anticipated to make my way through this modern classic. Have these distractions affected my view of the book? Almost certainly. But first, on with the plot.

This book is set in an alternate 1963, in a divided USA ruled half by Germany and half by Japan, because this is a world where the Allies lost World War Two, and the Nazis and Japanese ended up all but taking over the planet. In this nightmarish vision of what-might-have-been, we follow several characters as they find their way through the world. Mr Childan is a shopkeeper specialising in Americana antiques, who comes to believe his reputation is tarnished after discovering he has been tricked into selling forgeries. Mr Tagomi is a Japanese businessman seeking the perfect gift for a client, and is struggling to do business with another man, Baynes, who keeps putting off any transactions.

Frank Frink is a Jew who has begun making homemade jewellery with the hopes of selling it off and making his money from it. His ex-wife, Juliana, is a judo instructor who has begun a sexual relationship with an Italian truck driver called Joe, who introduces her to a novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is banned in many parts of the world because it depicts an alternate universe – one in which the Allies won the war.

Their stories interweave and overlap as they navigate a life that we can only gaze at in horror. Here, the surviving Jews have mostly had to undergo facial restructuring and name changes to avoid detection in society. Slavery is legal, Africa has been all but wiped out thanks to further genocide, the Japanese influence on the world means that everyone makes decisions based on their readings of the I Ching, and Hitler is still alive, although very ill. The main point of divergence seems to come when FDR is assassinated, and thus the USA don’t have the leadership to perform well in battle, and are still undergoing a Depression when the war starts. Here, the Allies surrender in 1947.

The idea of the “story within a story” of what would happen had the Allies won is a really interesting concept, and the version of events in that story play out somewhat differently to what really happened too, giving us three versions of reality by the time we’re done. It’s a nice meta touch. In true Philip K. Dick form, however, many things are left unanswered, character arcs seem to go unfinished, and there’s not a real sense of conclusion about any of it. At least, I never felt there was. It’s a really interesting idea, and one that literature has explored frequently (in alternate history writing, I’m sure “What if Hitler had won the war?” must be the most common starting point), but I’ve seen it done better.

The jewellery-making subplot I find boring, and I never really clicked with Mr Tagomi. I find Mr Childan’s clumsy attempts to not offend his new Japanese friends quite endearing, and Juliana Frink is an incredible character and the most interesting by far. I understand why it’s a modern classic, and I think it’s an important, intelligent novel, and while it may be one of the first novels to properly explore a world where the Axis powers won, it isn’t the best one. Even Stephen Fry’s Making History is a more engaging example. It’s a novel worth reading for some really inventive ideas, but it’s never going to be a favourite of mine.

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka (1915)

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metamorph“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.”

We’ve covered this before – I am not one for the classics. Someone who is, however, is my friend David who prefers his reading matter to be untouched by modernity and, ideally, originally written in another language.

So when I found myself finishing up this one hundred year old book, he was the person I turned to about it.

The Metamorphosis is the story of Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find that he has turned into an insect. His family are now disgusted by him, his boss doesn’t want to know, and he must now live in his old bedroom and wonder what has become of himself. That is literally all there is to the plot.

“Is there some kind of massive allegory I’m missing here?” I asked David, hoping he could shed some light on it. His reply: “Yes. But I have no idea what it is. I mean,” he continued, “it’s Czech, written by a Jew, in German, lost to the mists of one hundred years of lost socio-economic context. Whatever that allegory was, it has no relevance to your reading it.”

So with my most literary competent friend stumped, I am left scratching my head and wondering how to get a review of any length out of such a short book in which so little happens. Especially when I didn’t like it much. There is hardly anything that could be considered a plot, not much character development, no moral, no explanation as to what is going on, and no real ending. Some classics I understand why they’ve lingered, and some have just left me scratching my head. This is one of those. I don’t think it’s helped by the fact that, apparently, in the original text, the first sentence goes on for pages, and it’s never specifically stated that it’s an insect that Gregor turns into. How much has that changed what Kafka really meant? Books need more than this, but I fear I’ll never understand exactly what was going on here.

David had one final thought: “What’s good about Kafka is that even though you don’t really like the story or the writing, it stays with you forever.”

In that, I fear he’s completely right.

“The Teleportation Accident” by Ned Beauman (2012)

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Send it to another place.

Send it to another place.

“When you knock a bowl of sugar on to your host’s carpet, it is a parody of the avalanche that killed his mother and father, just as the duck’s beak that your new girlfriend’s lips form when she attempts a seductive pout is a quotation of the quacking noise your last girlfriend made during sex.”

It’s been a while, so if you have no other form of entertainment than this blog and have noticed I’ve been missing, you may be wondering where I’ve been. In the real world, I have been pony trekking in Somerset (just don’t ask) but in the literary world, I’ve been in 1930s Berlin and latterly Los Angeles, struggling with a dense novel. So here we go, with Ned Beauman’s second novel.

Boxer, Beetle was Beauman’s debut novel and I confess that it is one that entirely bypassed me, and I don’t know anything about it. Neither, as you’ll soon learn, do I much care to. I’m getting ahead of myself, because I don’t want to insult the book, so let’s cover the premise and then move on to critique.

In Berlin in the early 1930s, Egon Loeser, a set designer in the theatre, is struggling a contraption called a teleportation device that will move actors from one side of the stage to the other in a heartbeat, and also with a complete lack of sex. It hasn’t helped that his ex-girlfriend has just hooked up with someone else and he has just met Adele Hitler (no relation) and immediately fallen in love with her. Unfortunately, so has everyone else. Avoiding all other sexual interaction until he can have Adele, Loeser begins to slowly lose his mind and when he hears that she has left Berlin, he goes after her, following her to Paris and then Los Angeles. In America, however, he discovers that due to the events going on in Germany now under the charismatic new chancellor, almost everyone he knew has also one by one upped sticks and moved half a world away.

In Los Angeles, he continues seeking out Adele but gets mixed up with his favourite author Stent Mutton, and some scientists at CalTech who, among other strange and secret projects, are working on a teleportation device, only this one has grander applications than the theatre, if only Professor Bailey and his assistant can solve the riddle of how to make it work.

When it comes to the actual writing, Beauman is near enough a genius. He is funny, clever and good with words and I can’t take any of that away from him. When he describes a posh house as being somewhere Loeser feels that at all times he is being watched by either a live horse or a dead stag, that conjures up such vivid imagery about the kind of house we can all picture. However, it’s a dense book. It isn’t hugely long, but Beauman is a fan of the long-winded paragraph giving the book a somewhat daunting density that is hard for a reader to maintain for long. The characters, while not exactly wooden, do not appeal particularly in any way. By the time I got to the last second twist (and, objectively, it is quite a good one), I had long stopped caring. It appears to have been recieved favourably, however, having even been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. But it reads exactly like a book longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, almost as if there was a space open on the list and the book was written especially for the role. Take that how you will.

It’s clever, but it knows it. It’s funny, but with a nod and a wink towards the audience. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I also didn’t like it enough. I just have absolutely no strong feelings about this book either way. It filled up nine days of my life which was about five too many, and I will forever equate it with the burning in my thighs after an afternoon on a horse.

I did look up Boxer, Beetle briefly and found a review on Amazon from user ThugEarwig that said of it, “I strongly suspect it was written in a coffee shop. On a Mac.” This is exactly the feeling that I have about this book too, so thank you for that Mr Earwig. More succintly and intelligently put than I could ever manage.

If you’re interested in reading more of my work, please download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus from Amazon, iTunes or any other ebook retailer.

“Apocalypse Next Tuesday” by David Safier (2014)

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apoc

Can I take a raincheck? How’s Thursday?

“There’s no way that Jesus can have looked like that, I thought to myself as I sat in the parish office staring at the painting of the Last Supper.”

The return of Jesus to the modern Earth is a fairly standard subject that appears in recent fiction, and I should know because I seem to have read most of the novels on the topic. This hasn’t been done intentionally, but as I’ve undoubtedly mentioned before on this blog, I find the whole idea really interesting. Although not in the least bit religious myself, I retain a strange curiosity about religion – why does it drive people to behave the way they do, and what were the people in the Bible really like, if of course they even really existed?

In Apocalypse Next Tuesday, we hear the events from German thirty-something Marie Woodward, possibly one of the most average people on the planet. She’s just jilted her fiancé Sven at the altar and is entering into a downward spiral of depression, not helped by the fact her dad has fallen for a Belarusian woman younger than Marie, and her mother has shacked up with the local priest. Things quickly take a turn for the brighter, however, when she meets the kind and naïve Joshua, a carpenter who has come to fix the hole in the roof. She ponders about asking him out for a date, not realising that she has the hots for Jesus himself.

Because elsewhere, Satan is about and is recruiting his horsemen for next week’s Armageddon. The events of the Book of Revelation turn out to have been pretty accurate and Jesus has only returned to fight Satan and his armies. There are just a few short days now for Joshua to convince Marie who he is, then Marie to convince her sister Kata of his true nature. Marie has fallen for some bad men in her time, and now she’s fallen for the best, but can he be swayed from his task of saving the world from Satan and creating the new Kingdom of Heaven?

The book was originally released in German and I’m pleased it’s made it across here in translation, although I think I’d like a word with whoever was responsible for proofreading and the translation. Although generally good, there are a few spots here and there where the wrong word is used, a word is omitted entirely, an errant space has turned up, or the punctuation is sloppy. These are petty complaints and don’t detract from the novel’s content, but it still irritates me to see them.

Otherwise, the book is frothy, funny and has a lot of heart. Jesus (or Joshua) is portrayed kindly, as more human than superhuman, and even God comes across better in this appearance than he does in others. Marie is not actually wholly sympathetic, and is shown to be aggressive, rude and stubborn, although is also capable of good, freely admitting that she finds it difficult to be nice to everyone, and that to live life the way God intends is not an easy thing to do.

Of the secondary characters, my favourite is Kata, Marie’s sister, who has recovered a serious illness, although lost her faith in God along the way. She is a cartoonist and her cartoons pepper the book, cute little drawings that detail the adventures of two sisters. Marie often reads them to find things that Kata won’t say out loud.

It’s a sweet little novel, with some really interesting concepts (I love the stuff with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) and some genuinely funny jokes. It’s also, oddly, never overtly heavy-handed regarding the religious aspects. It acknowledges that God is both kind and dangerous, and that lives are complicated. We all have secrets and anyone would find it difficult to be a good Christian in these modern times. It’s why I have respect for those who do live by a moral code, providing it isn’t one harmful to or disrespectful of other people.

You don’t expect a book with the word “apocalypse” in the title to be light, but it is.

“Look Who’s Back” by Timur Vermes (2012)

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And he's führious.

And he’s führious.

“It was probably the German people, the Volk, which surprised me most of all.”

Speaking of monsters, there is one man who is considered the most monstrous of all. Hitler is a figure so universally hated that his name has become a byword for all that is wrong and evil in the world. Before we get going, I am going to state for the record here and now that what Hitler did was wrong. Genocide is wrong. War is wrong. His belief system was screwy and the man was quite possibly mad. I neither condone or support the atrocities he caused or allowed to occur. I shouldn’t have to say that, because it should be obvious.

Unfortunately, in this very difficult review, I have some things to say that I never thought I would. Let’s begin.

Look Who’s Back came out in Germany a couple of years ago where, as you can imagine, it shocked and appalled the German people. Hitler is, naturally, a very taboo subject in the country and so to write a novel from his point of view was something that could have gone very, very wrong. As it was, Vermes has done it very, very right. The basic plot is as follows.

In 2011, Hitler wakes up in Berlin, disorientated and unable to remember anything beyond sitting with Eva Braun in the Führerbunker. Now, he’s almost seventy years ahead of that time, wondering what on earth has happened to his country. It’s now run by a dumpy woman, full of immigrants, and none of the people are saluting him. He is taken in by a newspaper vendor and, through the papers, learns much of what he’s missed. Some of it impresses him, but there’s precious little of that.

He begins to attract attention and soon broadcasting people are interested in this man who refuses to give his real name or break character for even a second. Convinced that he is the most realistic Hitler impersonator they’ve ever seen, he is offered a part on a popular comedy show. After his first appearance, people aren’t quite sure what to make of him, but he goes viral and discovers that people are willing to listen to him, even if they are laughing. So while he cannot understand why no one seems to accept him for who he is, the people nonetheless begin to worship him…

I think the most difficult thing about this is the fact that it forces us to remember that Hitler was not a monster or a dragon, but a human being and, like all human beings, was therefore a patchwork of good and bad. This Hitler is not an evil dictator. His ideas, for the most part, are naturally unthinkable to the average reader, but he is not portrayed as ruthless in his manner, or shown to be gunning people down himself. He is, above all else, a politician and an orator, a charismatic leader who, now struggling to come to terms with the events between his first death and second birth, is naive in the ways of the modern world. He forms an oddly sympathetic character, fascinated by computers and the Internet, but unable to understand why everyone is laughing at him and no one recognises him for being the real deal.

This is actually far scarier than him shouting.

This is actually far scarier than him shouting.

I think that that was always the most terrifying thing about Hitler; his humanity. He was charming. He liked children and animals. He supported adoption, reduced unemployment, encouraged development of the Volkswagen, and eliminated foreign debt. And yet, despite that, he still ordered the deaths of millions. We can dress him up as evil incarnate as much as we like, but evil for the sake of evil doesn’t exist. Hitler believed that he was doing the right thing for his country. I am not supporting his actions, they were atrocious, I am merely saying that he, like everyone else before and since, exists in shades of grey rather than a black/white morality.

The book deals with absurdities of modern life, of how technology has advanced to such a point that another Hitler would be even more dangerous (imagine what he could do with the Internet’s audience) and also seems to study the guilt that Germany is left with. After all, Hitler didn’t appear from nowhere first time round. He was elected, and people did his bidding. How much was “brainwashing” and how much was willingly done? It’s also about the cult of celebrity that the Western world now has, as we now seem to rank celebrities above almost all other news.

The supporting cast of characters are also excellent. His young staff are at first nervous about what he’s doing, but they can’t argue with the ratings and it also helps that Hitler misinterprets their positive comments about his work as being positive comments about his beliefs and plans for the future of Germany. Practically all of the dialogue is double-speak, with Hitler and the modern Germans having different intentions and understandings of what is being said. The strongest example is probably when Madame Bellini, a TV executive, warns him off making Jewish ‘jokes’ with the words, “The Jews are no laughing matter”. Hitler misunderstands this and thinks that she means that her opinion of the Jews is like his. Incredibly awkward.

My one flaw? At the end of the book are a few pages giving a few more details on Hitler’s backstory, as well as information about other prominent Nazis and modern Germans who are mentioned. While good, this could really have done with being at the front, although I did read this before beginning. While this book is naturally going to be controversial, I nonetheless think that it is an excellent read. Sometimes it’s written in quite a dense, political style, but I’m told that this is merely mirroring the style of Mein Kampf, which makes the whole thing even more intelligent.

It’s a smart, scary book, and yet another reminder of how wrong humans have been in the past, and that we must strive to never let someone like this get into power again.

“The Clockwork Man” by William Jablonsky (2010)

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clockwork“Dear Professor Wellesley, I greatly enjoyed your recent visit from Oxford, and thank you immensely for the fine leather-bound tome in which I now write these lines.”

William Jablonsky’s novel jumped out at me one day while I was in the Science Fiction & Fantasy section of Brighton’s branch of Waterstone’s. Not for having a uniquely wonderful cover (handsome though it is) or being on sale, but for the small word ‘steampunk’ printed at the top of the spine.

Well, that and, how awesome a surname is Jablonsky?

I’ve had a passing interest in steampunk for a while, although mostly for the aesthetic side of the genre and I’ve enjoyed browsing the Internet for fashions, inventions and people that would fill a steampunk world. Given this fondness, and the fact that I’m working on something set in an alternate steampunk universe, I thought I better dive in.

The Clockwork Man is the story of automaton Ernst who is built by world-renowned clockmaker Karl Gruber (the Master) at the tail end of the nineteenth century. Although he is mechanical throughout, there is far more to him than just cogs and nickel-plating. Not only does he have a suede skin, a penchant for nice suits and is able to lift incredibly heavy weights, he is also capable of learning, having independent thoughts, and understanding people.

Ernst is very close to Herr Gruber’s daughter, Giselle, a self-taught astronomer who is something of a genius herself. Ernst is very protective over her (although he is also protective of the Master and his son, Jakob). However, something is occurring in Ernst’s wiring that seems unlikely to have been intentional, and his feelings towards Giselle may be more than he can deal with.

After a tragic incident one December, Giselle dies and Ernst, unable to forgive himself, lets himself wind down in a sort of suicide, wishing to be left to rust and break. However, this doesn’t go exactly to plan when he is wound up again and finds himself in a deeply changed world over one hundred years later, with only an unstable homeless man for company. He begins to discover the events that transpired while he has been “asleep” and with now no opportunity to make his way home, must make a new life for himself.

Featuring cameos from, among others, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, seems to cement this book in our world, but it is clearly slightly different, as technology of this level has still yet to be invented. Although the book lists itself as steampunk, the term “clockpunk” is actually far more accurate, as Ernst is powered by clockwork rather than steam, and he is the only real change between his timeline and ours. This is not a complaint, as I adore clockwork things – all those delicate cogs and wheels – and I found Ernst to be an interesting character.

It’s a great novel for contemplating the nature of the soul and what defines something as being “alive”, as while Ernst is definitely manufactured, he is far more than a machine. Interesting and thought-provoking.

“Sorry” by Zoran Drvenkar (2009)

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“You’re surprised how easy it is to track her down.”

soz

Oddly enough, not a British comedy of manners

Joining the ranks of authors whose names I cannot pronounce (see also: Chbosky, Palahniuk, etc), comes Zoran Drvenkar, a Croation-born German writer with his translated-from-German novel Sorry. This thriller is one of several firsts for me. First book translated from German, first book by a German and, as far as I can recall, first book even set in Germany.

The translation doesn’t feel particularly translated, but I’m sure something is lost in the change as it usually is, so maybe if you do speak the language, go for the original copy. However, I only have the English one, so let’s have a look.

Sorry is the story of four friends – Kris, Tamara, Wolf and Frauke – who are all approaching their thirties and still seeking meaning in their life. After losing his job, Kris realises that no one seems to know how to apologise anymore, and so the four of them set up an agency whose job it is to do the apologising that other people find hard. If someone has been unfairly dismissed or wrongly accused, the company hires these guys to say sorry for them, usually accompanied by some kind of pay off.

However, it calls goes wrong when a certain call is placed. Wolf goes to the apartment where he is to be apologising only to find his client is nailed to the wall, long dead. The four become embroiled in an ethical battle and have to decide whether to call the police (and potentially incriminate themselves), leave and pretend they saw nothing, or follow the orders of the killer to remove and dispose of the body.

The narrative is completely unique, switching not only between the four agency members, the murderer and another mysterious figure, but also mixing first person, third person and even second person points of view. You, yes you, become part of the story and the whole thing works wonderfully to really drag you inside. The resulting novel has the effect that, for most of the time, you can never be totally sure who is who, or who is actually narrating. It keeps you going until everything unties itself and becomes clear in the most surprising manner towards the end.

This is a thriller, so it’s riddled with the usual cliches, but it gets away with them because of an intelligent premise, fully-rounded and likeable characters and snapshots of comedy, whether intentional or not. The book slips through time, telling the story out of chronological order, further adding to confusion as to which character is where, who’s really narrating and what the final outcome will be.

Some of the scenes are a little gory and described as such, but if you can stomach modern-day crucifixion and pedophilia, then by all means have at it. It’s also worth a go if you’re interested in different narrative structures and want to see how they can mix effectively, as well as giving an insight into the power second person viewpoints have.

And if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, then, well, sorry.