Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

The Capital, by Robert Menasse

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Es sollte tatsächlich der Tag werden, an dem er Abschied nehmen musste. Er dachte, es wäre der Bauch. Sein großer Blähbauch drückte gegen seine Lunge und presste sie zusammen, so empfand er es und er meinte, dass das der Grund für seine Atemnot wäre, die immer wieder wie ein Seufzen klang. The day would surely come when he would have to take his leave. He thought it would be his stomach. His large potbelly was pressing against his lungs, forcing them together. That was what it felt like and he supposed it was the reason for his breathlessness, which sounded again and again like a sigh.
This novel by an Austrian writer took German-speaking Brussels by storm last year, and hasn't quite had the same impact on English-speaking Brussels (or French-speaking Brussels) since it came out in translation earlier this year. It's a multi-stranded story of Commission officials, Brussels people and visitors, with a mixture of sardonic humour and grim observation of the miseries of the human condition. The central plotline concerns an initiative to commemorate the anniversary of the European Union in Auschwitz, the people who promote it and the poeople who kill it off; this is combined with a peculiar subplot about a runaway pig. A lot of the bureaucratic personalities are well observed, and there are some great set-pieces - the cyclists ganging together on the morning run, the think-tank conference, the graveyard.

Menasse is of course a controversialist, and has taken flak for inventing quotes from Walter Hallstein, the first President of the European Commission. To a certain extent I think that you are entitled to put things in novels that are not actually true, but he has apparently also included them in supposedly non-fictional texts, which is less praiseworthy. The pig-trading strand of the book is based on a total misinterpretation of EU agricultural trade rules. Much more trivially, the book is set after the 2016 Brexit referendum, but has the European Policy Centre still at its former location in the Residence Palace, rather than Rue de Trône where it’s been since 2015.

I think it appeals more to the German/Austrian sense of humour, and at the end I was slightly wondering what the point was. But there are few enough novels looking at European Brussels in anything more than cliche, so it's welcome from that point of view. You can get it here.
Tags: bookblog 2019, world: belgium

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