Saturday, 17 May 2008

What a Load of Scheisse!

I've just finished 'A Year in the Scheisse: Getting to Know the Germans' by Roger Boyes. I read it in an evening; not because it was a riveting read, but because it was so unchallenging.

It's title invites comparison with Stephen Clarke's 'A Year in the Merde', but whereas that book was both genuinely funny and insightful about living in France amongst the French, Boye's book has no sense of place or of cultural tectonic plates rubbing together.

Dubious though it sounds, the conceit on which the book is based has the first-person narrator desperate to marry a German woman for tax purposes. He needs the money urgently so that he can put his widowed and impoverished father back in England into a nursing home; the alternative is his father coming to live with him and, as the narrator puts it, sponge off him.

If this all sounds a bit amoral, then be aware that the narrator is a journalist specialising in hunting down stories connected, however peripherally, with Adolf Hitler for a British newspaper probably in the mould of News of the World. On arrival at Schönefeld he lies to a custom control officer, uses a worthless Turkish coin to get a luggage trolley, then embarks on a mission with his English journalist hacks to track down a watercolour being auctioned that might have been by painted by Herr Führer, all in the first few pages. So we know from the onset that he is a dishonest individual. That he then cynically two-times two women, and cheats in the Berlin marathon to try and impress one of them, comes as no surprise. He evinces no sympathy in the reader, and we have no reason to care what befalls him. He is a devious, work-shy, cowardly, unethical, car-crash. The only reason to read on is a ghastly horror at how more despicable the author can make him.

The other characters in the book struggle to achieve two-dimensions between them. Lazily-written cartoon sketches, they do not develop believable personalities and remain crass stereotypes. They bump by chance into one another up to a 'surprise' ending which is so well signposted it might as well be an exit on the Autobahn.

The subtitle of the book is 'Getting to Know the Germans', but we don't really learn anything about them at all. Supposedly, according to book cover, this is a best-seller in Germany. Indeed, when I was last in Dussmann bookstore in Berlin, this book was piled high in the English language section. I can only imagine that Germans read this book to confirm their prejudices that England is a nation of underhand, unfit, cads with a fixation on World War 2. Meanwhile, Boyes confirms our expectations that Germans are cold, supercilious, angst-ridden, health-obsessed, and with a conviction that they are Übermensch.

There should be a humorous, warm-hearted book out there where we really do get to know the Germans, but this isn't it. I suspect that the book that does is 'Planet Germany' by Cathy Dobson, which I have just started reading as an antidote. If it is, I'll post a review here shortly.

3 comments:

  1. Wish I read this earlier. Just wasted my money on Roger -.-

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  2. A truly terrible book.

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  3. absolute crap it has to be said. I find the pathetic story about cheating in the marathon and bumping into Rudiger at every turn, highly unbelievable.

    Planet Germany by Cathy Dobson is wonderful by the way. It really shows a nice but dysfunctional family muddling through and really getting to know the Germans.

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