FAIL, GET BACK UP, GO ON LIVING
Is constancy in the love between women and men no longer a possibility? It would seem so in Daniela Krien's novel. The fact that this observation does not lead to a prose laden with lamentation, doom and gloom is due to the stories' resourceful protagonists.
By Marit Borcherding
At the beginning of the book a child dies and at the end one is born. A wide-ranging and emotionally challenging plot between deep sorrow and a hopeful new beginning: Daniela Krien demands quite a lot of her five women who are the focus of Die Liebe im Ernstfall (i.e. love in case of emergency) and whose fates she links. Paula, Judith, Brida, Malika and Jorinde, in their search for love and happiness in life and for their place in the bourgeois-culturally well situated Leipzig of the post-reunification period, leave scarcely any stone unturned, particularly not where adventures with a promiscuous touch are concerned. But at the same time they must suffer numerous disappointments and setbacks. And they need more than a little resilience to keep their heads up.
Breakdown of a picture-book marriageThe roundelay begins with the bookseller Paula, who falls in love with the handsome Ludger. They become a picture-book couple. Unfortunately – or of course? – the happiness doesn't last long, but before the tragic finale of the marriage comes, Paula clearly feels that she is the one who has lost out in the relationship. Ludger turns out to be a self-righteous, know-it-all egotist – not rendered explicitly by Daniela Krien in a dramatic dispute scene, but instead by the almost casual portrayal of a joint bicycle ride: “He was faster than she when cycling. He didn't look around for her. [...] He also determined the route. He knew the best route from any point in the city to any destination. Paula's opposition broke when he looked at the map, which he always carried with him.” It is these unsentimental, clear-sighted sketches of people and their interactions that constitute the strength of this well-crafted novel.
When Ludger has the brass to blame his wife for the death of their daughter without even a shred of proof, Paula falls into a deep black hole, from which Judith, her long-time childhood friend, tries to help her out over and over again. The second chapter is dedicated to Judith, a highly intelligent top-achiever and doctor, somewhat stereotyped as a cynic who also wields a riding-crop - and with this change of perspective Daniela Krien presents another facet of the female quest for happiness – whereby the childhood and youth of the respective protagonist are also blended in throughout, which in turn explains many of her character traits and wounds. Judith, who visits dating portals a lot, knows exactly what kind of dilemma she's in: “She needs a man, although sooner or later she'll despise him.” As expected, a happy end as understood by traditional gender roles is nowhere in sight.
Seeking and finding new pathsThe same is true of Brida and Malika, both patients of Judith and both lovers of Götz – whereby Brida initially outrivals Malika and then is herself abandoned for another, younger one. To complicate matters, there are always children involved who are both good-luck charms and burdens for the women. Or they are projection surfaces for all kinds of longings – as happens to Malika, who cannot have children of her own. She finally suggests to her sister Jorinde an amazingly obvious lifestyle model when she, pregnant for the third time and separated from her – surprise – self-centred and ruthless husband, doesn't know what to do next. And so the last chapter ends with a sisterhood with children, in which the roles are not distributed to the detriment of individuals and where mutual caring and allowing free space are part of the rules.
In the afterword, Daniela Krien thanks her daughter: “Her preference for happy ends was not without its influence.” It is gratifying that something new is being ventured within the framework of this amicable conclusion to the novel, and that all the women who are the subject of this book do not desist from searching for their own appropriate paths.
Krien, Daniela: Die Liebe im Ernstfall
Zürich: Diogenes, 2019. 288 S.
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