Skip to main content

The Camera Killer by Thomas Glavinic

The whole area is cordoned off
and we're closing in.
I loved Night Work, Austrian Glavinic's own I am Legend, or maybe, more accurately, Last Man, given there aren't any vampires in it ('Neville, Neville!'). It was creepy as hell and completely unresolved, whilst being written straight, a little matter-of-fact, but cold and hard and sparse and brilliant! In fact, it put me in mind of Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (of which more anon) in so far as it was as though the Creator had lifted away all of the automatons whom He'd charged with interacting with the protagonist, in His divine experiment, leaving only the one real person and no explanation. Maybe His funding ran out!

I can't remember if I came to Glavinic through fellow Austrian Thomas Bernhard or if it was the other way around, but either way I was eager to find other works of his translated from Austrian. At only 100 pages or so, I'd considered this a little too slim to be a good read so left it for last. In the end, I think I made a singular mistake–this is better (in a different way) to Carl Haffner's Love of the Draw, his chess novel.

Okay, so it's going to be hard to review this objectively without a massive hint of a spoiler. Anyone who doesn't want the surprise ruined look away now. Maybe go read my review of Indiana, Indiana instead.

Right. Here it is. I'm sure all the Eng Lit graduates out there took a look at The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie at some point. You'll all know where I'm going with this. That was in essence a confessional novel. So is this. Although in retrospect it's given away in the very first line–"I have been requested to commit everything to paper."–it isn't until the very last page or so that the mystery is resolved. Our narrator is telling the story of his holiday with friends over the Easter weekend, which is tarnished by the reporting of an horrendous double murder, of two local children no less, by a man who filmed the whole thing. In reality, he doesn't actually do any of the killing, instead forcing the children into acts of suicide by threatening the rest of their family with terrible suffering and death. Anyway, this spurs on the media to a suitable and far too familiar frenzy, with one German TV news channel even going so far as to broadcast an edited version of the tape to its viewers. All the while the four friends (narrator and partner, and his friend Heinrich and partner) try to have a normal, relaxing, Easter weekend, playing games, eating and drinking, enjoying a little teasing and competition and attempting to patch up their typically slowly dissolving thirty-something friendships.

As the weekend progresses and they become alternately obsessed and repulsed by the media storm, they discuss the moral and ethical situation, try to find distractions, but are always pulled back into the story. As the net around the killer slowly tightens, we suddenly realise that the police are heading to the very house in which they're all staying–THE KILLER IS ALREADY IN THE HOUSE etc.

What sets this trite little morsel apart, though, is the bald telling, the humourless, emotionless voice of the narrator. He's reporting, as objectively as possible, on the situation as it unfolds, on the discussions amongst the friends and the reactions of the neighbours and the wider public. It's dry but taut with suspense! And the ending, although telegraphed so soon in the novel, is a slap-your-head moment. HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO BLIND etc. It's an optical illusion that once you see it, it can't be unseen and you have no idea how you could have seen it any other way before.

Comments

How's about that then?

Selected Holiday Reading - The In-Betweeners Abroad

I always try to travel light, a goal, something with which those among you with bookish leanings will empathise, that is challenging for someone intending to do as much reading as they can whilst ignoring as much culture and scenery as is possible. So huzzah and indeed hurrah for the generic e-book reader and its market competitors. Ten years ago I would likely have suffered a paroxysm of disgust for any apologist of the hated technology. Now, it seems, I must take one everywhere I go for more than one night.



The trip to which I am coming, an August sojourn by ferry to Santander and then by VW through Calabria, the Basque country, and north through Aquitaine, Poitou-Charente, Pays de la Loire and Bretagne, was a chance to get some serious reading under the belt. Twelve days of driving, drinking, books and beaches. The only 'real' books that made the trip were The Vagabond's Breakfast, of which more anon, and All The Days And Nights which, as I was on a deadline, I quickly …

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…

Augustus Carp, Esq., By Himself: Being the Autobiography of a Really Good Man, by Henry Howarth Bashford

So it goes that, for one reason or other, I was asked recently* to recommend a list of classic British comic novels that one might take on holibobs, to be read at the pool, on the beach, or in this case at a sprawling, crumbling ancestral seat in the heart of Ireland during a month-long fishing expedition.
Unfortunately, every suggestion I made was knocked back, either for reasons of personal (bad) taste or because it had already been read. I thought long and hard** and serendipitously, most likely due to having read this post from the most excellent Neglected Booksblog, but equally likely due to a ringing endorsement from Anthony Burgess at some point or other, I came upon Augustus Carp Esq, a book I noticed I had on my e-reader, although how and why it was there is anybody’s guess.
Penned by a notable English physician, one which any blog of note would not neglect to mention once was physician to a contemporaneous English King (George the something?), it is ill-in-keeping with any of …

The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills

It’s hard to say, when asked as I was recently at a meeting of local writers (who you can follow on Twitter if you wish), who might be my favourite author. If you look at my book shelves, you might see groupings of books by modern authors such as (WARNING - gratuitous alphabetical roll-call):
Paul Auster, John Barth, Richard Brautigan, Thomas Bernhard, Jim Bob, T.C. Boyle, Karel Čapek, Jonathan Carroll, Stephen Donaldson, Glen Duncan, Tibor Fischer, Peter Høeg, Michel Houellebeq, Bohumil Hrabal, Ismail Kadare, Andrey Kurkov, John D McDonald, Harry Mullisch, Haruki Murakami, Cees Nooteboom, Victor Pelevin, Thomas Pynchon, Jon Ronson, and Kurt Vonnegut (my usual go-to favourite when I don’t have the energy to explain).
In addition, you might just spot every book ever published by one William Woodard "Will" Self (minus Sore Sites which mysteriously vanished while moving house a few years back). Whilst a fan, and also willing to admit experiencing an embarrassing and sometimes di…