Simone Buchholz ‘Blue Night’

The main protagonist in this crime thriller read for German lit month VIII is the hamburg state prosecutor Chastity Riley, in this book which I too learnt afterwards was the sixth in a series, maybe why there were so many characters around her (well Simone Buchholtz had had five books to develop them), Chastity is a city girl, a Hamburg girl, what is she thinking of? Driving into the countryside. After she breaks down somewhere between“Mecklenberg and wherethehellever” we learn from her friend Faller“Why do you do these things Chastity? Just head off out of town? you need your concrete” I guess she really is a city girl.

Chastity has been relegated to witness protection for a sombre story including gunshot wounds to a criminals testicles and launching a corruption case against her bosses. As the story opens her next protection case is being prepared for her in the back streets of Hamburg:


“Then they whip the coshes out from under their jackets. Three jackets, three coshes. Left leg, right leg. Left arm, right arm. And six feet for twelve pairs of ribs. Your very own many-headed demon. Tailor-made to order. Then out come the pliers. Right index finger. A clean crack. But you’re left-handed; they don’t know everything.”


Well as I skipped through the opening chapter and the man being beat to a pulp was able to congratulate himself on his attackers not knowing everything (that he was right handed) I thought to myself : “well he’ll still be able to write” and then later in the book I felt like Marylyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot: Not very bright he needed his trigger finger for something other than writing

Chastity is a right and ready street girl, used to working the shadier areas of Hamburg and can hold her own in any drink and cigarette contest, after gaining her witness’ confidence, she gets out of Hamburg for the day, following a lead, I get to feeling that Leipzig really isn’t like Hamburg, that said I’ve never been to Leipzig, I like the nail scissors.


“Leipzig looks like any other medium sized German city, only a bit better, tidy in a Bavarian kind of way, pretty, old, picture book, listed buildings everywhere, we come to a tree lined square that looks like it was smartened up with nail scissors.”


As the story moves on we find ourselves in the drug business with two unlikely drugs in the same operation, Croc and Crystal meth, Unlikely I said:


“Croc, codeine tablets cooked up with Formic acid and match heads is meth’s cousin from hell, dead in six months… with meth you can hold it together for years, Croc kills quickly, it doesn’t quite fit the business model”


Throughout the story there are many references to Hamburg, as here for instance as the story draws to an end:


“Faller and me on the erholung promenade in St. Pauli we’re smoking and drinking coffee from paper cups the jetties are below us, a few ships, a few tourists, a lot of gold, no sun in the sky.”


She’s a Saint Pauli girl alright, wait for the football match, everybody standing, no one in the boxes.

First Published in German as “Blaue Nacht” in 2017 by Suhrkamp Verlag.
Translated into English by Rachel Ward and published in 2017 by Orenda Books

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Readalong with Caroline: Blue Night – Simone Buchholz comment 5

Readalong with Caroline.

“Faller and me on the erholung promenade in St. Pauli we’re smoking and drinking coffee from paper cups the jetties are below us, a few ships, a few tourists, a lot of gold, no sun in the sky.”

She’s a Saint Pauli girl alright, wait for the football match, everybody standing, no one in the boxes.

Jakuta Alikavazovic “Progress of the night”


In some ways it was true. There was nothing between them, img_1396but then again it was false, once everything that takes place with time had taken place something unalterable remained.***


In this award winning book from 2018 read for the “Roman de Rochefort” prize, Alikavazovic studies opposites, how people at different ends of the spectrum can be attracted, attracted and at the same time repulsed (an attempt here at copying her writing style, affirming something and then it’s opposite in the same sentence, illustrated by the opening quote). The characters and the writing style reflect these opposites, opposites highlighted by their similarities. Take for example the main protagonists, Paul and Amélia, both orphans on their mothers sides, one rich, one poor, both architecture students, Paul  working as a night porter in a hotel, Amélia as a mysterious rich student  living in the hotel. They meet and live a fusional relationship:


I’d give everything to be like you, i’d give everything to be you ― but Paul knew that there was a difference between unlearning something that we know and never having known it.***


Their architecture lecturer Albers is a specialist of cities and the night, a subject they see from opposite viewpoints, for her, night would represent a violence that would grow out of control, for him, night was a subject to be tamed, controlled. Albers turns out to have been a very close friend of Nadia, Amélia’s mother, who had left  Amélia as a baby and had gone to Sarajevo just before and during the siege, where she had disappeared. She was unable to go through with her life and ignore the unfolding tragedy, she had to feel it, she was an artist and needed to be involved. Albers on the other hand, a theorist, did not feel the need to become involved. Albers theorising the city in dislocation, Nadia living the destruction of the city. It would take Albers’ vision and understanding to see what was happening between Amélia and Paul:


It was obvious that they would be, one for the other, the perfect lover. And that a person with more experience, Albers or another, should have been able to feel something worrying, an almost mechanical inevitability of the pleasure which would sometimes, for both of them or at least for one of the two of them be a nightmare.***


Amélia leaves him abruptly one day and disappears for ten years, spending this time ostensibly looking for her mother in Sarajevo whilst actually looking for herself, discovering that after the destruction of the city, (and her mother), the people want to rebuild the city as it was, to forget the violence which she cannot. She marries a young Serb who under her influence becomes an artist fighting against the will of the people to forget the seige, the recent past, taking actions such as splashing the streets with red paint. Alikavazovic theorises:


And what if art was the contamination of an experience, the inoculation of an experience, not lived yet experienced.***


When Amélia returns, Paul has become rich, as an architect he has become a specialist of …windows, and with her father’s help then sets up as a security specialist, in a way to protect against the night, selling amongst other things a thick walled safe people can hide in to escape danger. Once again seen from a certain perspective she living the essential, searching, feeling and yet back with no answers and he understanding the fear of the people in the city yet working at and living from the futile:


He never knew what the light was like, nor the strange dissociation that sets in between he who sees everything whilst experiencing nothing and he who experiences everything without doing anything, without being able to do anything, and are one and the same person.***


To finish my write up, they have a child, Amélia leaves soon after to go from war zone to war zone and a new cycle sets in as eventually their child leaves to seek out her mother. A difficult, hard, yet rewarding read.

First Published in French as “L’avancée de la nuit” in 2017 by Editions de l’Olivier
*** My translation

The original quotes before translation

D’une certaine façon c’était vrai. Il y avait rien entre eux, mais d’une autre c’était faux, une fois qu’était passé tout ce qui se passe avec le temps il restait quelque chose d’inamovible.

Je donnerais tout pour être comme toi, je donnerais tout pour être toi — mais Paul, lui savait qu’il y a une différence entre le fait de désapprendre quelque chose que l’on connaît, et celui de ne jamais l’avoir su.

Il était évident qu’ils seraient l’un pour l’autre de parfaits amants. Et cette personne plus expérimentée, Albers ou une autre, aurait pu pressentir là quelque chose d’inquiétant, une inévitabilité presque mécanique de la jouissance qui serait parfois, pour les deux ou au moins pour l’un des deux, cauchemardesque.

Et si l’art est la contamination d’une expérience, l’inoculation d’une expérience non vécue et pourtant éprouvée

Il ne sût jamais comment était la lumière, comment était la dissociation étrange qui s’installe entre celle qui voit tout sans rien éprouver et celle qui éprouve tout sans rien faire, sans rien pouvoir faire, et qui sont une seule et même personne.

Readalong with Caroline: Blue Night – Simone Buchholz comment 4

Readalong with Caroline.

As the story moves on and it starts to get nasty its back to business school:

“Croc, codeine tablets cooked up with Formic acid and match heads is meth’s cousin from hell, dead in six months… with meth you can hold it together for years, Croc kills quickly, it doesn’t quite fit the business model”

Readalong with Caroline: Blue Night – Simone Buchholz comment 3

Readalong with Caroline.

Well, Chastity’s got out of Hamburg for the day, I get to feeling that Leipzig really isn’t like Hamburg, that said I’ve never been to Leipzig, I like the nail scissors.

“Leipzig looks like any other medium sized German city, only a bit better, tidy in a Bavarian kind of way pretty, old, picture book, listed buildings everywhere, we come to a tree lined square that looks like it was smartened up with nail scissors.”

Readalong with Caroline: Blue Night – Simone Buchholz comment 2

Readalong with Caroline.

“Then they whip the coshes out from under their jackets. Three jackets, three coshes. Left leg, right leg. Left arm, right arm. And six feet for twelve pairs of ribs. Your very own many-headed demon. Tailor-made to order. Then out come the pliers. Right index finger. A clean crack. But you’re left-handed; they don’t know everything.”

Well as I skipped through the opening chapter and the man being beat to a pulp was able to congratulate himself on his attackers not knowing everything (that he was right handed) I thought to myself : “well he’ll still be able to write” and then later in the book I felt like Marylyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot: Not very bright

Wolfgang Herrndorf ‘Sand’


Each year we send a ship to Africa—sparing neither lives nor money—to seek answers to the questions: img_1394Who are you? What are your laws? What language do you speak? They, however, never send a ship to us

HERODOTUS


Herrndorf’s “Sand”, read for German Lit month VIII is about as disjointed a novel as you are ever likely to meet. The main protagonist wakes up, a few chapters in, on the first floor of a grange and doesnt know who he is, well nor do we. Herrndorf introduces a large number of characters into this book with some wonderfull descriptions such as for this American secret service agent:


There are not many people who can be described in a single sentence. Normally one needs several, and even for ordinary people an entire novel is not enough. Helen Gliese, who was leaning on the rail of the MS Kungsholm in white shorts, a white blouse, a white sunhat and giant sunglasses, chewing gum with a half open mouth, looking at the swarm of people on the nearing shore, could be described in two words: pretty and stupid. With these two words one could send a stranger to the port and be sure that he would pick up the correct person among hundreds of travelers.


At the beginning of the book There is a Swedish character called Lundgren who has a meeting set up in the desert with someone he doesn’t know. Lundgren has been around and has a low view of Arabs which Herrndorf puts across with thick sticky paint strokes such as here when as he rents a room for a week his landlady wants to make money:


The old woman was unimpressed. In the kitchen she offered Lundgren food, he declined gratefully. She pulled a bottle of home-distilled schnapps from beneath her apron, he contended not to drink alcohol on religious grounds. She proceeded to offer him coffee, a pure coffee, a rental car, a prostitute, and her ten year old granddaughter. A small girl, guaranteed not over ten!.


We know we are in north western Africa at the start of the seventies but not much else. Herrndorf punctuates his short chapters by a myriad of quotes some of them quite humorous but I gave up pretty quickly trying to find the link between the quotes and the story, quotes such as the opening quote where I felt a little like Herodotus trying to grasp the book chapter after chapter but the book didn’t send me any ships. As Lundgren finds out something about C3 hitting upon oil and then dissapearing from the story, our main protagonist wakes up in a grange with a sore head having lost his memory and escapes from three Arabs dressed in white Djellabas whom he hears talking about Cetrois and is picked up on the desert road by Helen Gliese who plays the unconcerned tourist rather well and since he doesn’t know his name she calls him Carl. Somebody knows something and the different people in the story after either money or secrets are peruaded that the somebody is Carl and that he knows but won’t tell. So as Carl hunts down his identity they hunt down what he won’t tell them. Got it?

An interesting story but it gets no clearer right up to the end. As the Daily Telegraph says “A masterpiece culminating in one of the greatest twists I’ve ever read” well I’ve now read the ending a number of times and the twist is as difficult to find as Carl’s memory. I would give this one a miss.

First Published in German as “Sand” in 2011 by Rowohlt.
Translated into English by Tim Mohr and published in 2017 by Pushkin Press