Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly's Reviews > Group Portrait with Lady

Group Portrait with Lady by Heinrich Böll
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Apr 10, 10

Read from April 06 to 10, 2010

At the center of this novel is a 48-year-old German lady, Leni Gruyten-Pfeiffer. The narrator is the author but he refers to himself in the third person. There are so many other characters, however, that before the story starts the author has a 2 1/2-page "List of Characters" which the reader would every now and then refer back to as a guide.

The author's apparent aim is to know who Leni is. He narrates of the countless interviews he made upon all these other characters (and even other minor characters not in the initial list) who, at times, would give contradictory impressions not only about Leni, but her immediate family, co-workers, husband, in-laws, lovers and friends. Sometimes, a curious incident told by one character would somehow be explained by the narration of another character.

The tone of the author's narration is somber and scholarly. The setting is wartime Germany (second world war). But the reader is saved from complete boredom because of the deadpan humor permeating the first to the last page of this novel. It even has a happy ending.

The thing which pisses me off here, however, is not only those many characters but also the author's propensity to abbreviate things. Referring to himself, the author becomes simply "Au." A character named Klementina would suddenly just become "K." Tears are "T.", weeping is "W.", suffering is "S.", laughter/laughing is "L.", and beatitude (or bliss?) is a mere "B." So you have to dog-ear page 106 and go back to it whenever you see a sentence like: "Leni...is pale from P. and S., totally debilitated by W. and T., without even a suggestion of the rudiments of L."

It's not even clear why the Au. is so much interested with Leni. On page 259 he said he is a "researcher". But why is he researching on Leni? On page 365 he says his desire to conduct a research on Leni's life "emanated from neither a terrestial nor a celestial authority, it was EXISTENTIAL..."

Heinrich, what the F. do you mean by that?!
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