By December 10, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

WOW, LOOK AT ME, I HAVE A BIG BRAIN

Mary Ellen’s recent column quote about her friend says, “Although she thinks it’s a wonderful book, she says it’s a bit too literary for her particular book group.”

At last I can admit that occasionally I read a book that I like that I feel is too challenging to discuss with anyone I know.  Not my book discussion group, not my wife and certainly not any of my male friends. 

What I am forgetting while languishing in Egoland is that sometimes the very challenging literary devices employed by some authors might be the very triggers needed to ignite a discussion.  Sometimes a negative is just as helpful as a positive when crafting a book discussion.

My latest example is David’s Revenge by Hans Werner Kettenbach.  This well crafted internal dialogue features a man who is so self-absorbed he does not realize that the very behaviors he longs for in all his associates are missing from his own soul. 

The narrator is Christian Kestner, a secondary school teacher in davids revengeGermany who once went on a trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, where he nearly seduced the wife of a literary agent named David Ninoshvili.  This long forgotten indiscretion is brought to the forefront when seven years later David announces he is leaving war torn Georgia to travel to Germany to promote the literature of his country.

Christian convinces himself that David is coming to seek revenge.  There is nothing like a good old unreliable narrator to get a book discussion group going.

One of the major themes of the book is “what is truth?”  Along the way the reader must also deal with a possible murder and issues of parenting, male/female relationships, infidelity, government spying, racial profiling and the rise of neo-Nazism. 

Hans Werner Kettenbach is one of Germany’s leading crime writers.  This particular novel was written in 1994 and received its English translation this year.  One review compared Kettenbach to Patricia Highsmith and I agree completely.  I would also throw in a little of Eric Ambler and some Graham Greene.  While this title is described as a thriller, I would describe it more as an interior, perfect fodder for a director like Alfred Hitchcock.   

Kettenbach tells this tale in a stream of consciousness narrative that skips around in time and also includes the occasional flight of fancy.  For me, it was like the old cliche:  watching a train wreck.  Then, to wrap this challenge all up with the ultimate bow, the ending leaves it up to the reader to decide who is right/wrong, loyal/disloyal, or sane/nuts. 

I would have no problem writing discussion questions for this book, I am just not sure if any one would like to come and discuss it with My Big Brain.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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