Martin Suter ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’

‘Dr. Fluri was no more under the illusion for this point than the other participants. img_1412-1His only thought was to save face, the same one Urs Blank would have happily slapped that same afternoon.***

Welcome back to the Swiss author, Martin Suter, once again read for German lit month VIII. Urs Blank is a successful corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions, we discover him at the beginning as he prepares and helps to negotiate a deal that is a merger only in name, Dr. Fluri’s company is to be taken over. The narrator lets us know of Urs’ frustration at the pompous Dr. Fluri as illustrated in the opening quote. As then Urs is given the opportunity to ruin Fluri and takes it we understand that Urs has a surpressed “dark side”. We are not the only ones to see this, Pius Ott, A multimillionaire and hunter (he hunts both rare and dangerous wild animals including both a rare lynx early in the story and had at one time hunted and killed a man eating lion) who is the money behind the takeover of Fluri’s business, appreciates Urs’ killer instinct and thinks he recognises a kindred spirit. Ott is the character Urs could become, Ott was never interested in Fluri’s business, only in destroying the man which Urs did for him.

But Urs is dissatisfied with his well ordered life, lunch same time, same place each week with his friend, the psychiatrist, Alfred Wenger, his life without love with his companion, Evelyne Vogt and wants to change something, and so he does. What at first seems a banale middle-age crisis as Urs takes up with a young hippy girl, Lucille, swings out of control when she persuades him to come to the countryside with some friends and to try some psychedelic mushrooms. Urs has a severe reaction to the mushrooms which release his dark side, he no longer feels guilt which we discover as he kills Lucille’s cat with his bare hands and puts it in his briefcase or as he causes the death of a random impatient motorist who wants to overtake him:

‘The car behind was  bumper to bumper with his Jaguar, lights on full beam. Blank showed no reaction, coming out of the next curve the car set to overtake him…. it was a two seater sports car….it wasn’t a match for his twelve cylinders. The more the other accelerated, the more Blank accelerated….the lights of the car coming in the opposite direction shone on the sports car next to Blank….Blank accelerated. Behind him he heard the impact, like an explosion.
Then there was silence, he could only hear the hum of the air conditioning. Blank turned on the radio. A classical music channel, Haydn..***

After talking to his friend Wenger and thinking back to his experience with the mushrooms Blank realises that there was a mushroom different than the others in those he took, he then sets out to search for this mushroom. Blank retreats into the forest over several months, the only place he feels really safe, where he learns to live in total self sufficiency in the wild. An incident with Pius Ott, finishing with Blank punching him and walking away leads to the hunter detesting him, soon after, to escape from the police (there were other murders), Blank successfuly fakes his own suicide, living then entirely hidden in the forest. When Ott discovers that Blank is still alive and could thus be killed without being missed then the hunt begins between the hunter with no concience and the proficient forest dweller with no concience and builds up to the final crescendo.

This was really a fun book, a well written psycological thriller for which a 2016 film by Stephan Rick exists, a shame that it hasn’t been translated into English yet.

First Published in German as “Die Dunkle Seite des Mondes” in 2000 by Diogenes Verlag.
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni and published in 2000 by Christian Bourgeois
***My translation

Peter Stamm ‘The Mild indifference of the World’

The text on Magdalena and my life had lead nowhere. I had spoken to her about it adding that too few things happened in our existence to turn into literature.56B71533-481E-455B-8108-C3B64F7CC34C Why write all that I said, we are already living it. In truth I was afraid Magdalena would become foreign to me, that the fictional character could irrevocably replace the real character…..actually I didn’t like to see her on stage, maybe because I didn’t want to see that she could be completely different, that our love wasn’t the only possibility that she carried within her.***

As this book opens the narrator, an old man, is haunted by a young woman, Magdalena. In this mysterious book by Peter Stamm read for German lit month VIII the narrator begins by inviting an unknown young woman whose name is Magdalena but who is known as Lena to a rendezvous in a cemetery in Stockholm. As the story moves on he confesses to Lena that twenty years earlier he had separated from the one great love of his life, Magdalena, an actress, and of his insecurity over their relationship, of the differences between who she had been and how he had imagined her illustrated by the opening quote. He finally leaves her in order to better concentrate on his literature, then writing and having published the only book he ever wrote which concerns their lives and their separation.

But who is Lena, she is an actress too, she resembles Magdalena and has acted in the same play by Strindberg as had Magdalena. We learn that he had first come across her partner, Chris, a young writer that resembles himself whilst visiting his home town, Chris worked in the same hotel he had worked in, went to the same university and finally had a partner called Magdalena. The narrator, after following Chris over a period of time and then confessing to Lena, tries to alter their lives so that they remain together:

I didn’t cheat on Magdalena, I repeated. And what does that change? says Lena. I thought that if you and Chris were to meet here, everything could end differently this time, I said. He would realise things, you would talk, go back to the hotel, everything would end well. And he wouldn’t write the book says Lena. That’s what you were counting on isn’t it? Her voice was still exasperated. I think we can sort things out ourselves. Or do you believe that you can put your life in order by wrecking our’s?***

Lena asks him the key question, had leaving Magdalena made him happy. A short intense book, but the opening chapter tells of the tragedy, of the ever young woman visiting the man who doesn’t recognise himself trapped in his old body.

First Published in German as “Die sanfte Gleichgültigkeit der Welt” in 2018 by S. Fischer Verlag
Translated into French by Pierre Deshusses and published in 2018 by Christian Bourgois
*** My translation