As the title indicates, Jacques-Pierre Amette's novel La Maîtresse de Brecht – translated as Brecht's Mistress in the American translation and Brecht's Lover in English – principally concerns the playwright Bertolt Brecht's woman. Who is the imaginary Maria Eich.
The omniscient narrative concerns the return of Brecht in 1948 from his fifteen-year exile from Nazi Germany – spent with his wife Hélène Weigel, mainly in the USA – to East Berlin, now under the control of the Soviets.
Vetting is the order of the day on the part of all sides, and just as Brecht has been under close surveillance in California from the McCarthy witch-hunters sniffing the slightest hint of communist sympathy, so the Stasi in East Germany want to know if the great writer has in any way changed his political allegiances over the previous fifteen years.
This is where Maria Eich comes in: the Soviets, via Hans Trew, employ the beautiful young actor Maria to spy on Brecht, to glean any information she can on him by taking photos of any of his papers. As a person with an estranged ex-Nazi husband and an ex-Nazi father but herself with no particular political views, Maria easily takes to the job, which inevitably soon includes sharing the bed of the notoriously sexually-oriented but much older Brecht.
In fact Brecht doesn't have that many years to live as he has a serious heart condition, and as the relationship with Maria progresses even though she gets nothing from it sexually and grows to severely dislike Brecht as a man in spite of her huge respect for him as a writer, her feelings for Hans grow.
Hans has a working partner named Théo Pillat and the couple have an odd, sometimes humorous relationship that reminded me almost of a Laurel and Hardy in reverse at times, and Théo can't understand why Hans – who's also in love with Maria – doesn't act on his feelings. But he can't, and I'm relieved that there wasn't a mushy ending here, although Hans ensures she gets safely to West Berlin where her daughter lives.
So there we have it, an interesting and quick read, although I've no idea if it deserved the Goncourt.