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This was written, allegedly, in an encrypted notebook while incarcerated in a Nazi insane asylum and only discovered after his death. 

 

It's the story of a man's journey into alcoholism and what becomes of him. That's an over simplification, of course, but any more would spoil the story. It's superbly written and well translated and while not an easy read - the protagonist does suffer - it's absolutely incredible to read.

 

Recommended.

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  • 3 months later...
The first half of this book details the sudden alcoholism of the main character Erwin Sommer and his decent into chaos. His inability to see his own spiraling behaviour results in a series of moments which are actually very funny involving, as they do, a rather comedic lack of self-awareness. There's one moment, for example, where he's at work with his wife Magda and pretends to drop something behind his desk so that he can bend down to drink, all while believing that his wife is none the wiser. I actually laughed at this (it even reminded me of the drunk family from the Fast Show). This absurd behaviour continues and escalates until he finds himself trying to seduce a local barmaid (who weirdly acquiesces) before he eventually begins stealing money and silver from his own house (this resulting a physical altercation with his wife and a hollow death threat).

He then rents a cheap room from a man named Lobedanz, a badgering weasel of a man, who endlessly manipulates the drunkard into giving him more money and jewelry. At one point, after withdrawing a significant amount of money (thousands) from the bank, the two of them wrestle in a train station toilet and Lobedanz takes the vast majority of the money. Sommer, however, is so thrilled to have enough left to buy drink, that he doesn't even appear remotely bothered by this. Which also made me laugh.

This, however, is where the novel changes course quite abruptly. It stops being quite so funny. Sommer is soon arrested for the 'attempted murder' of his wife and ends up in gaol with some unsavoury characters (including, towards the end, Lobedanz) before being moved on to a psychiatric asylum. The descriptions of this world are clearly from his own experiences and he details, quite matter-of-factly, the homosexual relations taking place between the men. Having recently read Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (which is famous for being about a lesbian love affair) I was impressed by the way Fallada more straight-forwardly approaches the subject matter. Barnes skirted around it with flowery language, while Fallada simply lays things out as they are.

Sommer's time at the asylum makes him even more self-loathing and pathetic, slowly but surely allowing his growing resentment towards his wife to intensify despite the countless opportunities others have encouraged him to see for a potential reconciliation. This all culminates in a supervised meeting between Sommer and his wife at the very end of the book which is very blunt to say the least.

Ultimately, this is the story of a man who is petty and selfish, immature and bitter (mostly because his wife is more competent than him). It begins with an almost comedic tone before setting up a rather more depressing second half. Given that Fallada wrote the book whilst in a Nazi asylum and was accused of attempted murder of his own wife, I think we can safely say it's very autobiographical.

This was right up my street. Roman à Clefs are increasingly my preferred form of fiction, especially when they're written in such a clear and concise style.
 
8/10
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