15 April 2016

Jean-Yves Cendrey: Honecker 21 (2009)

Jean-Yves Cendrey's Honecker 21 is mainly set in present-day Berlin, the city he moved to with his wife Marie NDiaye and children after – but not entirely because – Sarkozy was elected President of France. It is both amusing and grim, and makes a number of criticisms of a society under attack by an ethos of excessive consumerism.

The blue watering cans in suspension on the cover have no specific bearing on the plot of this novel, although they illustrate very well the surreal atmosphere in the book. Matthias Honecker is a successful employee in the mobile phone industry and his cultured wife Turid, who chose him to change him, is trying to get him to read books.

Honecker is never calm, feeling besieged from all quarters, be it from his wife, or the saleswoman who won't freely accept back his coffee machine because his guarantee's a day too late, or his highly imperfect Renault Avantime car, or his dentist (who has given a tooth a crown which is now playing him up), or his gym (whose boss he astutely realises takes money from clients to sweat for him – thus reversing the usual Marxist sweated labour relationship), or his own boss who summons employees to a New Year 'motivation dinner' at Świnoujście on the Polish border.

But then Honecker doesn't make life easy for himself by falling for the deaf and dumb girl Kubain and moving his family (which now includes a newborn baby neither he nor his wife is interested in) to the Corbusierhaus where Kubain lives: meanwhile Turid sinks into depression, their new apartment is full of the former occupants' furniture and Honecker has an appointment in Świnoujście.

Sick of his boss and on a very short fuse, Honecker drives back towards Berlin to try to salvage his marriage, picks up a couple of sinister hitchhikers, and seems ready to meet his death by being murdered or killing himself. The back cover suggests he's a Chaplinesque character, and I can identify certain aspects of the problems of modern times here. A strange book doing strange things with dialogue, and some of the content in general too.

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