Book Review – ‘Red: A Novel’

Actually, this is a translation of the German title ‘Rot: Roman’. Fortunately, this is not just a book about the colour red (although as you might expect, red things do play a role at certain points in the story). Instead, it is an intelligent and complex narrative.

The novel opens with the death of the narrator, who is also its main protagonist, and works backwards through time to cover a few keys moments from the last years of his life. The story unfolds through a sometimes haphazzard first-person narration, which – it quickly becomes clear – also functions as the narrator’s funeral oration for himself.

[Another word for this is ‘eugoogly’. Or did you think I would be too stupid to know what a eugoogly was?]

It transpires that, while alive, the narrator earned his living as a funeral speaker for atheists and agnostics who would have objected to a religious funeral. (The implication appears to be that the narrator began to work in this capacity while living in the former East Germany. This is a novel about the recent pasts of individuals and political systems no longer extant.)

The approach favoured by the narrator when creating funeral orations was to find out what made each person’s life unique and interesting. He tries to uncover the story of each person as a rounded whole – not simply the idealised version he is presented with in his interviews with their friends and family. This approach also characterises the style of the novel itself (the narrator focuses on what made himself unique) and of the entire oeuvre of the author, Uwe Timm.

The other very interesting character in this novel is the love-interest, who describes her career in the memorable line ‘I sell light’. She is, in fact, a lighting designer and artist, who is commissioned to light the flats of the well-to-do as well as plays and operas, and who also creates her own light installations. All of these are evocatively described by the narrator.

As if this were not interesting enough, we learn that the narrator was carrying some dynamite in his briefcase when he died; dynamite that he found while researching the life of an elderly Communist agitator…

And did I mention that the book is full of humour?

Bermuda

We’re now in Bermuda. I’m not going as far as my brother and sister and emmigrating out here, it’s far to parochial, but what a place to live. Pictures will I’m sure be following. The other night Claire’s come over for dinner after a hard day looking after a sick Bearcat. Last night we went into the town of St Georges for our cousin Donnie’s 65th birthday. The whole family except the parents were there.

Fierce Festival

I’m not very good at paying attention when Katie goes into “arrangements” mode, and while this may be annoying for her, it sometimes has side benefits. For example, on Thursday I had been expecting to see one performace at Warwick Arts Centre; I actually got three. They were all part of the Fierce Festival.

Kindle – Suzy Woo

Sam from Kindle performed a short piece in the bar in which she played a love song on a harp to an unsuspecting single male. He somehow managed to avoid turning crimson as I would have done, which helped to make the performance enjoyable and not cringeworthy.

Bobby Baker – How To Live

It had been a long week, so perhaps Bobby Baker was at a disadvantage to this audience member, but her didactic show presenting her 11 step self-help program (see what she’s doing there?) was just too dull for me to succeed in keep my eyes open all the way through. It did have it’s moments – I liked rolling a pea around in my mouth with my eyes closed (no need to pay attention to the stage), and there was an impressive visual display of a 3D sea of peas. I’m told that she’s usually excellent, but I’m afraid this showed little evidence.

Stan’s Cafe – The Cleansing Of Constance Brown

I was woken up with a start by the third performance, a mime show! Stan’s Cafe make theatre rather than coffee, have done for a while, and it show. This was a mature show packed with ideas, almost too many. It was set in a corridor, so had a very long and narrow stage. This was a novelty, and it worked. There was little to hold the set of sketches together except a vague notion of cleansing. That didn’t really matter as the energy, visual ideas and intense soundscape kept you engaged and challenged you to guess what it was all about. They had performers being drenched, shredded paper spraying all over the set and a huge orange hot air balloon taking over the stage like Jabba The Hut. I didn’t really mind that it made no sense.

30th Century Man

Scott Walker was a member of 60’s hit band the Walker Brothers. Actually none of the Walker brothers had the surname Walker; Scott’s was Engle. Why am I telling you this? Well, this is one of the few facts that I learnt from the 90 minute documentary film about this mysterious maverick musician. If the man himself is elusive, his music is even more so, which is probably why you’ve not heard of him. Not only was the man and the music elusive, but so was the film itself – my friend spent many hours trying to track down a cinema where we could watch it; we ended up having to go to Solihull. But it was worth it. The documentary was much more about the music than the personality, with some sequences just showing people like Jarvis Cocker and David Bowie (both influenced by him) listening to Walker’s music. And frightening music it is too, but having watched this film, I’m making the effort to dip more than my toes into it.

Words, wonderful words

I was pleased to learn that ‘ixnay’ has recently been added to the OED. Derived from the German/Yiddish slang word ‘nix’ and mutated via Pig Latin, ixnay has earned a place for itself in the English language by virtue of its repeated use, examples of which can be found at http://dictionary.oed.com

I first heard ‘ixnay’ in the classic film ‘Short Circuit 2’ (sadly not referenced by the OED). For those of you who care, ixnay is adv. and N. Amer. colloq.

Another word that has taken my fancy of late is ‘vixtim’. Its first and – to my knowledge – only appearance is in an undergraduate essay I marked this week. Apparently a typo, it nevertheless ‘works’, by cleverly suggesting an overlap between the words ‘victim’ and ‘vixen’.

And in some senses, the female ‘vixtim’ Marie (in Buechner’s play ‘Woyzeck’) is indeed both innocent victim and heartless seductress, depending on one’s reading of the text…