Tim's Reviews > Die Hauptstadt

Die Hauptstadt by Robert Menasse
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it was ok

+++ Winner of the German Book Award 2017 +++

In the center of this novel is the thought of a European Union that develops beyond national borders, beyond nationalities. But is it a thought experiment, a novel set in this future? No, sadly it isn't – that would be a novel I would have loved to read. Rather, it is a novel of people – EU officials, and a retired university professor invited to a think tank for the European Council – talking about the future of the EU. This makes it rather less engaging, I'm sad to say.

The are some great ideas at the core of this novel. Menasse puts the European Union as a result of the nationalism of the first half of the twentieth century – especially the proclamation of 'Auschwitz, never again' – into the center of the narrative. Fenia Xenopoulou, a EU official deeply unhappy with her post in the culture department, is determined to show 'mobilité' and 'visibilité' to take the next step in her career. She decides to jump on the chance to organize a big jubilee, a project to brush up the image of the European Commission. The idea: have Auschwitz survivors talk about the founding idea of the Union – a union beyond nations to end nationalism. An idea that does not go down well with everyone in the microcosm of the EU. And then there is Alois Erhardt, a retired professor invited to a think tank in Brussels to discuss the future of the European Union. He is frustrated with the members of the think tank who eloquently analyse the status quo unwilling to challenge ideas. His idea: build a new capital on the grounds of Auschwitz, the birth place of the European Union.

Wow, what a great idea for a novel! What a great setting! I love that. BUT.

In my humble opinion, Robert Menasse is not a talented writer. His dialogues are cringeworthy, his characters are without fail underdeveloped stereotypes, some of the storylines are so predictable it hurts. Also, this novel is a mess. Why not leave it at what I outlined above. That sounds like an interesting idea, right? Well, he thought it might be a great idea to add a murder mystery (like a very lightweight version of Angels & Demons), a semi-engaging love story, and (inexplicably) a pig running through the streets of Brussels (I don't know, people – maybe he felt he needed a surreal aspect as well?). There really is no understandable structure to the plotlines, and some come together in a way that can be seen from miles away.

Disappointing read to say the least, but most of all, I'm (rather selfishly) annoyed that it wasn't the engaging novel about European identity and the future of the European project that it could have been.

What the jury of the German Book Award said about the novel: “Robert Menasse weaves together eras, nations and institutions into a unique panoramic view of Europe – criminally driven, steeped in philosophy yet always fundamentally ironic. Very much in the tradition of Balzac’s idea of a critical approach to the present, Die Hauptstadt is a novel that contains everything about our era without ever being zeitgeisty.“
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Reading Progress

October 12, 2017 – Started Reading
October 12, 2017 – Shelved
October 15, 2017 –
page 450
October 15, 2017 –
page 45
October 20, 2017 –
page 107
October 21, 2017 –
page 233
October 22, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Meike Ahhh, I feel like the judges made a political decision by choosing Menasse! Like you, I am a huge proponent of the EU, but the prize should have gone to Franzobel (who also wrote a political book, focusing on personal responsibility).

message 2: by Tim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tim Without having read any other book short- or longlisted I got the same feeling. It was a very interesting argument he made, and I would have been happy to read a novel solely on the topic. But the rest really weighed it down and was a hot mess in terms of storytelling and structure. As a complete work, I cannot understand why it was considered for any prize, to be honest...

message 3: by Julia (new)

Julia Tim read some dialogue out loud! Wow, it was laughable. We don't know enough about German literature, but what does it mean that this won the prize for best German-language book?

Meike I am not sure whether any of us is ready to face that truth, Julia! :-) Although I suppose the votes for Menasse say more about German literary critics than about German-language literature. Anyway: Dear God, please let Clemens Meyer write a new book - and soon! :-) Or Setz, or Kracht, or BvSB, or Strunk, or Glavinic, or Kaiser...well, we do have some good people, there's no doubt about that!

message 5: by Julia (new)

Julia I agree! But only read two of those... Who's Kaiser?

Meike Vea Kaiser from Austria - I really enjoy her books, they are fun, but never shallow. I think you might like them, too!

Gerd Thanks for the review. Pretty much exactly what I felt when reading the book. While perhaps not surprising that it won the award (purely on the basis of its subject), rather mysterious that reviews in German feuilletons are consistently raving.

Alex Franzobel‘s book was great. Better than this one

Meike Alex wrote: "Franzobel‘s book was great. Better than this one"

Yes, Franzobel's book was fantastic!!

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