**spoiler alert** Friedrich Durrenmatt is one of those authors German children are likely to encounter in school. And, indeed, I have had to read one...more**spoiler alert** Friedrich Durrenmatt is one of those authors German children are likely to encounter in school. And, indeed, I have had to read one of his plays, and watch TV adaptations (and listen to radio adaptations) of various of his works. This being in school, I hated it, of course.
I was wrong.
It's strange how I found myself wanting to read Durrenmatt again. The realisation that many of my own thoughts about plots and characters and stories were shaped by a writer whose work I only knew superficially convinced me to give him another shot.
Well, three shots, this being three books in one. Writing at a leisurely pace, using devices that are perhaps a little outdated, Durrenmatt has a distinctive way with language. His characters feel real, but in a slightly poetic way. When they speak, you listen. His detectives are wise but weak, foolhardy, and sometimes without scruples.
The first of the stories, Der Richter und sein Henker, is one I had seen a TV movie of. There is some clunky exposition (Durrenmatt may have a distinctive and enjoyable voice, and a twisted but delightfully sinister view of the world, but man, does he ever use outdated plot devices...). Basically, it is a story of an old detective who has to deal with a murder, and who seems to know more about who is the murderer than anyone else. The ending is beautifully twisted.
The second story, Der Verdacht, is about the same detective, now dying, who by pure coincidence hears of a suspicion that a famous doctor might be an escaped war criminal. And he won't let go of that suspicion until he knows the truth. Of the three books, this was the only one I had never read / watched / heard before. It is also probably the weakest one, featuring too many happy coincidences, and some distinctly uncomfortable to read scenes featuring a dwarf. (It feels very 1960s, having a sinister, monstrous, not actually human dwarf in a story).
Finally, Der Verdacht, which has been turned into various movies (Es geschah am hellichten Tag with Heinz Ruehmann and Gert Froebe and The Pledge with Jack Nicholson), is quite possibly the darkest of the three offerings here. The subtitle is "Requiem for the (genre of) crime novel". It is the story, as told by a retiring police comissioner, of a brilliant detective, and a serial child killer. After making the promise to find justice - and swearing on his very soul - the detective is forced to pursue it on his own. The police force are satisfied that a suspect was guilty, but the detective has doubts. He may be a brilliant detective, but he is also merciless, without scruples, and very, very cold and calculating. He sets a trap - and for a trap, one needs bait. The movies are harrowing, indeed, Es geschah am hellichten Tag is very famous and has been remade at least once. Der Verdacht is more harrowing than the films. It may be a particularity of Swiss use of the German language, or it may be an outdated form, but the constant use of "das" in related to girls is eery. (Yes, it is "Das Maedchen", but not usually "Das Marie", or "Das Gritli" - having "das" accompany the name feels somewhat wrong to my ears. Then again, it'd sound normal for cutifications like "Gretchen", so I suppose Gritli is Swiss for the same). SPOILER ALERT! - The climax, which sees the police and prosecutors beat up the little girl, having used her as bait to a child killer, because they have run out of patience, is cold and brutal beyond anything I'd expected. END SPOILER.
I enjoyed reacuainting myself with Durrenmatt. Despite some outdated tools in his writerly toolchest, he is a brilliant writer, whose work is excitingly original, twisted, and whose tone / use of language is measured and beautiful. I'd recommend this book to anyone.(less)
Better than I remembered from my childhood. Momo is the story of a girl who is basically a kind of muse. She can listen to people like no one else can...moreBetter than I remembered from my childhood. Momo is the story of a girl who is basically a kind of muse. She can listen to people like no one else can, and by talking to her, people realise their own problems and solutions and find some inner peace. She can inspire the imaginations of children (and a storyteller) around her, without really doing much herself. She lives in the ruin of a Roman coliseum, and is visited by friends and neighbours.
And then one day, the grey men arrive, and start to steal the world...
It is a fascinating fairy tale. There are tales within tales (one of my strongest memories of tales is the one about the emperor who decided to build a better world...), there are magnificent flights of imagination, there is a magical, wonderful tortoise, and there is just about enough surreal in the story to be something I would consider genuine, stimulating art.
The resolution is not quite as wonderful as the rest of the novel, but it is a wonderfully written story. I have no idea whether it was ever translated into English (or whether the translation is good, like Cornelia Funke translations, or bad, like the Neverending Story translation). If you speak German and like children's literature, read this. It's wonderful.
(The movie really creeped me out as a kid though, and I did not really like the Momo of the film)(less)