Booktalk: Search for hope, find asylum in disillusions

Sometimes you read a book, simply you want to read something new and there isn’t another book nearby. Or at least no other books that seem to fit the mood. So you just read the book to pass the time. In this case, it did help that I’ve read other books by Arnon Grunberg and that the cover is bright yellow ( I just typed bright green, for some reason…).

Anyway, I was at my dad’s and they remodeled my old room. In style though, there is now a gigantic bookcase located on one side of ‘my’ room, filled with books and old diapositive films. So many books. So we (me and my boyfriend) spent some time looking at the books, and I picked this one. Funny story: when I asked whether I could borrow the book, I was told it was actually probably mine. Apparently, when my great aunt died I got all her books.

Let’s start with the basics of Grunberg. His books have one recurring thing: the main character is always a somewhat strange male. Smart, closed off, not very sociable. They’re uncomfortable, too weird and inadequate to the social norm. But: they’re dedicated. They’d do anything for their family because that ‘how it supposed to be and they’d choose this’. That doesn’t mean they’d like it though or are happy to do it. But they do it.

Take Christian Beck, the main character in this book. He decided at one point to make his girlfriend happy, even if that means he’s unhappy. He’s striving towards disregarding all of his own happiness and hopes because trying to be happy leads to disillusion. And disillusions are something to be avoided. He used to write but stopped because it was a source of darkness and ‘even talented darkness is darkness, and I refuse to poison anyone with that darkness’. He published one story, which was so revolting he himself decided it was enough.

His girlfriend, who is not his wife but he calls her his wife, is a researcher and they’ve been moving around for her research. In the present, where the story starts, they live in Germany after he’s been told to leave Eilat  (due to an unfortunate event involving a screwdriver and a prostitute). Becks has no real ambition (again: this would lead to disillusions and hope, which is to be avoided at all cost), so he translates user manuals and is content with it. His wife is writing her research paper and sleeps with deformed and unfortunate males. At the beginning of the novel she gets sick and decides to marry an asylum seeker, so he could get a residence permit, for which she needs Beck to be the best man at the wedding. After this, they become a three-man household where Beck goes above and beyond to ensure his wife is happy and her husband feels welcome. Even if this means he won’t sleep in his bed anymore but under the coat rack.

Grunberg is a masterful writer, who manages to describe his characters so amazingly well, manages to get his point across and delivers stories that keep haunting you. This story is based on existentialism and nihilism and revolves around the question of whether and how much you can be held accountable for your deeds and their consequences. Beck is caught between his believes, his cynicism and the love and tenderness he feels for his girlfriend. It results in a gloomy, comfortless book, which is not likely to leave you soon.

I’m in love with Grunberg’s writing, the uncomfortableness that oozes out of his books and characters, and how he keeps managing to write these masterpieces. As I said last week, I like dark and gloomy stories, but during this one, I needed to lay down the book a couple of times. Simple because it became too much. Even though Beck is a strange man and I can’t completely figure out why he is the way he is, you start to feel sorry for him. He wants to be there for his girlfriend, but he is unable to. And he realizes that, which is heartbreaking to read.

I guess that’s my conclusion about all Grunberg’s characters: they’re heartbreaking.