The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann
Twenty-five years earlier, Zeiger was involved in the interrogation of a physicist sent to a US military base in the Arizona desert where experiments in teleportation and other paranormal activities were rumoured to be taking place. Somehow, Zeiger felt a strong attachment to the scientist, regarding him as a friend. As the novel progresses, the link between him and Lara unfolds.
It’s a strange story about a very strange culture, bizarre, but not quite as comic as I expected from the blurb. However, I loved the exposé of how Zeiger discovered the material for the manual via the frustrations of attempting to collaborate on the task with a doctor at the asylum. Crazy or enlightened, depending on which side of the fence you sit: I’ve enjoyed experiential learning events in psychoanalytic thinking that operate in a similar way.
The prose is adroit, perhaps too much so in the early chapters when it slowed down my reading. But overall a clever debut about obsession, paranoia and the thorny question of where madness lies. Thanks to publishers riverrun for my review copy.
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke translated by
It’s narrated by the slightly rebellious daughter, in deceptively simple prose. I loved the voice from the first page, with its conversational repetitions and rationalisations of her father’s behaviour, which reveal as they attempt to conceal. If not for the blurb, I might not have realised that, as well as being about an overly controlled family, it echoes the atmosphere of East Germany on the brink of revolution. But, even without the political parallels, there’s enough material in the family dynamics to make a satisfying read.
First published in German in 1990, and in English in 2013, I bought my copy from publishers Peirene Press, after a later novel, You Would Have Missed Me, a pitch-perfect account of what it’s like to be a child with no-one to help her translate her experience into words, was one of my favourite reads of 2019. With similar themes, including the lie of a loving family, and migration to West Germany from the East, and one shared shocking motif, I wondered if both novels were semi-autobiographical (as, wittingly or unwittingly, much fiction tends to be). Wanting a stronger resolution, I wasn’t sure if I liked this as much, but I’m giving it five stars for the wonderful repressed-but-rebellious adolescent voice.