Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Review of Brenner and God by Wolf Haas (Melville International Crime, 2012; German 2009)

A former cop, Brenner now works as a chauffeur, shuttling two year old Helena between her mother, an abortion clinic doctor living in Vienna, and her developer father who spends most of his time in Munich.  When Brenner forgets to fill the car with gas the night before a trip he has to stop at a petrol station.  When he goes inside the shop to pay and get some chocolate for Helene he returns to find her gone, seemingly kidnapped.  A short while later, Brenner has lost his job and has decided to find Helena himself, starting his investigation with the leader of the pro-life group that campaigns outside the clinic of the young girl’s mother.  In so doing, he unwittingly starts a murderous spree.

Brenner and God is a curious book.  The story is told through an anonymous narrator who both tells the story and 'talks to' the reader, sometimes telling them what to do ('My dear Swan, pay attention, this is important').  It’s a style that I found increasingly irritating, partly because it comes across as somewhat patronising.  There are also a number of what are meant to be profound digressions, providing insights into modern society, but most fall flat.  As for the story, it’s a kidnapping story with a twist, based on two unrelated but coincidental threads.  The plot is interesting enough, but its telling felt a little underdeveloped in terms of its realisation, characterisation and sense of place.  I never felt as if I got to know any of the characters in any substantive way and some barely played a role or were under-used (for example, the cop to whom the reader is given a relatively substantial introduction near the beginning then disappears until the end when he very briefly re-appears).  This should have been a book I that I thoroughly enjoyed given the theme and supposed dark humour, but it just didn’t click into place for me, mainly due to its voice and underdeveloped narrative.


Declan Burke said...

I feel guilty now, for recommending this. I really liked it, though, especially that unusual omnipotent tone. Cheers, Dec

Rob Kitchin said...

Dec, it was a good recommendation - I should have loved it given my tastes. It just didn't click for me and I found it somewhat of a frustrating read.