“We were wondering whether you had any more of that coke.” “Quite a cache of it, yes.” “Can we buy some? We’re going to a party later and it’s the only way we know how to endure the company of our friends.”
I have to admit that I shallowly picked this audiobook out due to the gorgeousness of its cover! I got it from the OneClickDigital service through the library that I mentioned before.
Starting in Germany in the 1930’s, our anti-hero is Egon Loeser, a theatre set-designer who hangs out with the art crowd of Berlin, but seems to have nothing but contempt for most of them, and has an inflated view of his own self-worth.
He rather misguidedly attempts to recreate a machine originally used by his idol, the great 17th Century Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini, which was meant to catapault an actor across the stage in a split second, delighting the audience. Lavicini’s attempt has been recorded as ending in mayhem and death. Loeser’s attempt ends rather less dramatically in the light maiming of the actor involved.
Loeser grumps around Berlin, until he is reunited with his former student, Adele Hitler (no relation) who has truly blossomed into womanhood. Having not had sex for 2 years, Loeser becomes infatuated with Adele, and so follows her to Paris in an attempt to bed her, as he has convinced himself that if he can do this one thing, then everything will be alright.
However, when he reaches Paris, Adele is nowhere to be found, and eventually Loeser ends up leaving for America. Will he find Adele? Will he manage to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Lavicini so many years before?
I had NO idea what this book was going to be about, I had just been seduced by that cover! When iit started in Berlin in the 30’s, I was a little worried that I had chosen ‘a war book’, which isn’t really my thing. But Loeser delighted me from the start.
Loeser really is a loser, but he is self-important, depressed, and cutting. He doesn’t seem to like anyone or anything and he is hilarious with it. And I have to say, with the audiobook, Dudley Hinton narrates it PERFECTLY. He has that sneering, bored, upper middle-class bourjoisness about his voice…dripping with sarcasm and it fits Loeser’s character like a glove. I can’t imagine that I would have enjoyed reading the book as much as I loved listening to it!
The other characters are wonderfully well drawn, although occasionally I got a little lost with who was who from the names. that again could be an audiobook thing – I think it’s easier to keep up with names when you see them written down. It could however, have been that they were mainly German names, so not quite as familiar. I occasionally get that from translated books (eg the Stieg Larsson books). This didn’t deter me though.
I loved the fact that Loeser had no idea what was going on in current affairs – he had no knowledge of Hitler (“I will bet you anything you like that this other Hitler, whoever he is, will never make one bit of difference to my life,” Loeser announces. His friend replies: “That’s the sort of remark that people quote in their memoirs later on as a delicious example of historical irony.”), and when he eventually went to Los Angeles and everyone thought he was Jewish and seeking asylum, he was most put out. He really couldn’t understand why everyone thought he had fled his homeland.
I loved the book, it was a romp, it was a farce, it made me smile throughout…until the end, which personally I thought had got a little confusing.
So, a fantastic, entertaining journey with a slightly anti-clamatic ending with a contemporary view of history (were they really so dependent on coke in 1930s Berlin? Were pretty girls really sleeping with all the beautiful waiters in one of the hotels? Would a man really cross America looking for a particular book of porn?). Who cares really – it works!
Unique…and perfectly narrated!
It also has possibly some of the best blurb ever written: “A historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what ‘isotope’ means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.“