The Clown by Heinrich Böll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Clown by Heinrich Böll

German fiction

Original title –  Ansichten eines Clowns

Translator – Lelia Venneewitz

Source – personal copy

I think it is a tradition to have a book from Heinrich Böll for German lit month. Having featured him three times before on German lit month on the blog. I have long been a fan of his works. This book is one I have wanted to put on the blog as the themes in the book are at the heart of what drove Heinrich as a writer and that was post-war Germany, the Catholic church, families and being a German male in post-war Germany. I fear he is slipping away from view, for many as a writer. I know there was some reissues. But that was a few years ago, luckily his books can be found fairly cheaply second hand.

I thought of Marie: of her voice and her breast, her hands and her hair, her movements and everything we had done with each other. Also of Zupfner, whom she wanted to marry. We had known each other quite well as boys- so well that when we met again as grown men we didn’t quite know whether to use first names of not – either way we felt embarrassed, and we never got over this embarrassment no matter how often we met.I couldn’t understand how Marie could have gone over to him of all people, but perhaps I never “Understood” Marie.

Hans looking back but also thinking what went wrong woith Marie.

The clown of the title is one Hans Schnier a 27-year-old. He makes his living as a clown around Germany. He is from a rich protestant family.But was sent to a Catholic school. Where he meets and lived with Marie for five years.She was a Catholic girl , they never married but spent many years ago . til she was drawn back towards the church and want Hans to join her.They were meant to go to an event at the hotel but Hans had to perform the night they were due to go to the Catholic even.  he got back to the hotel and in the morning she is gone, five years down the drain and the love of his life has gone with a man called Zupfner. We are told this in retrospective as the book opens with Hans after Marie has left lamenting her leaving him. He also has family problems as he confronts his father over there childhood, the family position after the war and its effect on him and his brother.

Even in the bathtub I missed Marie. She had sometimes read aloud to me as I lay in the tub, from the bed, once fro the old testament the whole story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, another time the was od the Maccabees, and now and again from mThomas Woolfe’s Look homeward ,Angel. Here I was, lying completely deserted in this stupid terra cotta bathtub,  the bathroom was done in black tiles, but the tub, soapdish, shower handle and toilet seat were terra cotta. I missed Marie’s voice. Come to think of it, she couldn’t read the Bible with Supfner without feeling like a traitor or a whore.

Later he laments her but also has a wicked dig at the man she is with and his catholic religion.

At the heart of this is a lot of issues that were close to Boll. How Germany moved forward after the war.As Hans tried to break free of the family by being a clown.  How the church influenced people especially the Catholic church, his hometown of Koln is a very Catholic town. He must have also seen the effect of the church on Ireland a place. He visited many times as seen when I reviewed his, an  Irish Journals, a few years ago.You can even stay in his Irish cottage if you are a writer.Marriage is another thing that is touched on in the book. Hans and Marie lived together for five years, but Marie always viewed it as living in sin. This has echoes of works from Graham Greene, a book like the end of the affair.Which touched similar subjects, to this book was another novel that examined Catholic church.

November 2017
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