The Clown, by Heinrich Boll. Publ. by Marion Boyars Publishers (2002: First publ. 1963).Translated from the German by Leila Vennewitz.

Just my kind of book. Sad, witty, caustic, disgruntled… but scarifyingly honest. First and foremost it is a book delving into the character and characteristics of  Hans Schnier, a professional clown, absolutely flat broke and confined to his apartment by (among other things) a knee injury From here he forces himself to phone acquaintances to see if he can drum up a loan. I say ‘acquaintances’ because by now he has fallen out with practically everyone he’s ever met. The circumstances of these ‘fallings-out’ as retailed by Hans are simultaneously both hilarious and sad.

Except for a few opening pages (his arrival at his apartment) and some at the end (when he goes busking) the apartment is where the ‘action’ stays for the rest of the novel. But don’t be put off. I usually find this kind of introspective, one-scene-only type of book hard to read and I  don’t continue beyond the 50 pages or so I always allow before I fold. However, Boll’s book is different. ‘Captivating’, I’d say, without the usual twee associations that usually go with that word. The downside to this ‘captivation’ of the reader is that it gives him/her a feeling of claustrophobia, though this may be intended by the writer. And I never knew there was such a range of religious groupings in Eastern Germany (the book was first published in 1963): both Catholics and Protestants get short shrift from Hans. Also the Communists, so you see what I mean about him having fallen out with everybody.

Two women dominate the book, though absent from it. Hans’s former partner Marie, who has left him for someone else, and his sister Henrietta who was killed in the last days of the war. Marie is particulary an obsession and in this the book remeinds me of that iconic novel  ‘The Catcher in the Rye’  (by JD Salinger) where  the main character is similarly troubled by an absence. The self-confessional style also reminds me of Salinger’s hero,  Holden Caulfield,  with his very personal angst-filled narrative of events.

Absolutely recommended.

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