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.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lizzysiddal
    Nov 16, 2017 @ 21:33:55

    Big question – did you enjoy it? Loaded question too, because I hated it when I read it earlier this year. Too many


  2. lizzysiddal
    Nov 16, 2017 @ 21:35:21

    … shades of Catcher in the Rye for me. (Which I believed influenced Böll as he translated it into German.)


  3. beckylindroos
    Nov 16, 2017 @ 21:56:20

    I certainly can’t say as I enjoyed the book but it was a worthwhile read. I appreciate knowing the cultural climate of the times and place the author lived when he wrote something. In this case it fascinates me that Boll was anti-Nazi and a devout Catholic. Raised some issues for him when he found that the two groups had a pact.


  4. burning books
    Nov 16, 2017 @ 22:54:25

    his back-and-forth of disdain for, and understanding of, institutionalized religion are what stayed with me from this book. i liked it a lot, though the previous Böll i read, Billiards, remains my favourite.


  5. Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel
    Nov 17, 2017 @ 03:54:08

    This book does touch upon important and sensitive topics. I would love to explore Marie’s viewpoints of living in sin and whether she was at peace with it at last. I like how the author has tried to talk about relevant and sensitive issues yet named the book as Clown (of course, because of the protagonist). It does sound like a literary delight. I am new to this author and I think I would love to pick a book by him,


  6. Jonathan
    Nov 18, 2017 @ 13:06:19

    I read this years ago. It was my first book by Böll and I loved it so I tried some of his other books which I didn’t find that good. I keep meaning to re-read it and whenever GLM comes around it appears on my shortlist.

    How do you think it compares to his other works?


    • winstonsdad
      Nov 18, 2017 @ 14:14:26

      I like the books where he uses different narrators like a group portrait or safety net but has a personal feel to it I like billiards at nine best by him


      • Jonathan
        Nov 18, 2017 @ 16:14:31

        Thanks Stu. I think Billiards at Half-Past Nine was one that I read but didn’t like. In my youth when I read a book that I liked I expected every book by that author to be in the same style and to the same standard and was often disappointed. I wonder what I’d make of it now.

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