Will you make the right choice?
Publisher: Pinter & Martin
First Published: 6th September 2013
Date Reviewed: 9th September 2013
Sam and her brothers are staying at their grandparents’ for the summer holidays, and when oldest sibling Tony gets bored he prefers subjecting his sister and brother to somewhat nasty games, often dangerous. Sam doesn’t like it and worries about the effect on young Jeff, but she hasn’t the confidence to stick up for what’s right. Kate, their aunt, gets through boyfriends like there’s no tomorrow, always managing to ruin the relationship. This time, with a holiday booked for her and her newest boyfriend, who has lasted 2 months so far, things will be different. And then there is Richard, the step-grandfather who has sent a letter and ordered a package sent from his homeland to England. He’s not sure he should be showing it to anyone.
Deutschland is a fantastic short book that deftly combines the lives of three sets of people, albeit that they are related, to create a solid overarching study. Focusing on the themes of free will and choice, the book jumps back and forth between Sam, Richard, and Kate in a way that few authors master.
This is down to the suspense in the stories (‘stories’ here means the particular version of the few days for each character). Each story rests on an element of suspense so that the reader does not feel disappointed when the focus shifts – you want to read about Kate, yes, because her story is intriguing and you can see that there’s the possibility she’s going to ruin yet another relationship and you want to see what happens, but you want to find out what Richard is hiding just as much. And likewise with Sam and her brothers. What is especially interesting is that the stories by themselves are very much in the genre of the short story – separated they are concentrated character and theme studies that may or may not conclude perfectly and may end a little ambiguously – but due to the linking and the family ties the stories also work as one novel. This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the book, the strength in the structure and storytelling.
But the use of themes is up there, too. It may take a while for the reader to work out that this isn’t your standard story to get lost in, that there is a particular concept that Wagner hopes you’ll take away. The ending of the book is the most obvious sign, but as you read through the chapters (a couple of pages each) it’s easy enough to identify them. Every character in the book has a choice to make – sometimes it is one bigger choice, for others it’s a combination of multiple decisions that will align later on – and there is very much a sense of free will, too. This second theme is a little blurred, so to speak, not so obvious, but the atmosphere of the stories and choices are not adequately described by the word ‘choice’ alone.
As for the writing it fits the ‘literary fiction’ category and is rather lovely. It is at understandable and intriguing odds with the contents, and there is much attention to detail. The book has a grittiness to it, a certain darkness that affects each story, but if the cover is quite alarming rest assured that there is no horror or gore in it. The characters are written well enough that despite the short time you spend with them you feel you know them as well as you would in a 400 page novel, and there is a lot of mileage remaining in the book after you finish it and think about how different choices could have helped/destroyed the week or so it is focused on.
Deutschland is a fine novel that is sure to be loved by anyone who likes a bit of suspense with their top-notch writing.
I received this book for review from Pinter & Martin.
September 26, 2013, 6:39 pm
The cover is quite . . . shocking, isn’t it? I am glad to hear it isn’t really reflective of what’s inside. I really like the sound of this one and will have to look for it.