“Bellyache, so early to bed with a hot water bottle”
What does a writer do all day long? If you want to find out in an entertaining way, you should definitely read Heinz Strunk’s latest work. Similarities with the diaries of late great writers are fully intentional.
By Holger Moos
The book is based on Strunk’s columns for the satirical magazine Titanic. They’ve now been issued as Nach Notat zu Bett. Heinz Strunks Intimschatulle (To Bed after Note. Heinz Strunk’s Intimate Box). The result is a parody of the writer’s diary format. We learn both intimate details and lifestyle habits, such as the fact that Willi’s Schwenk-Grill is Strunk’s regular fast food place. He also goes regularly to Café 2 Talk where he meets, for instance, “two very unpleasant women (Barbara Schöneberger/Susanne Fröhlich type battle-axes).”
A writer’s whinging over his own physicality is also celebrated with relish and perseverance (“Problems falling asleep due to hot feet, burning feet syndrome,” “buzzing in the ears during the day,” “awakened by heartburn”).
Diaries read (and quoted) are by André Gide, Albert Camus, Gerhart Hauptmann, Franz Kafka, Richard Burton, but also by J. M. Coetzee (“Coetzee, the master, my master”). Homage is also paid to mainstream and trash culture: Strunk watches television programmes like Bares für Rares, fifties comedies, nature reports, and time and again television films with Helmut Zierl (in his classic role as “sympathetic jerk”). The result: “TV in the evening. Dull, very, very dull.”
A back-to-bed morning beerEverything that an important man does – and all writers feel important (“What is a famous man? One whose first name is irrelevant”) – is important, including, of course, the daily menu. For breakfast “biscuits, cold mulberry juice,” “lunchtime leg of veal in ravigote sauce,” “pork loin with morels and hollandaise sauce in the evening”. Sometimes a “back-to-bed beer” is necessary in the morning. Such a sensitive mind is also sensitive to the weather: “Mild, rainy 9 degrees, the expected onset of winter is still a long time coming.”
Of course, name-dropping is par for the course: “Call from Meyer-Schulau” or “Call from Bertram Leyendieker”. Major literary projects are also essential: “Master plan for this year: work on two books, a (hopefully) a big, award-worthy (and then also award-winning!) novel and, in parallel, a volume of short stories.”
Reality is, however, sobering, and the literary yield after “punching in” at the desk is sometimes miserable: “Working on the novel at an embarrassing snail’s pace – like a fourth grader.” A nihilistic attitude can hardly be summed up more briefly than the entry on 26 January: “Nothing today. Basically the same every other day when something seems to be happening, in truth of course: nothing is.”
Ironic acceptance of existenceThe book is interspersed with daily observations. It’s rare when an author manages to describe interpersonal matters so precisely and mercilessly in such fleeting sketches. Others need pages to write a marriage into the ground. Strunk does it in a few sentences: “An old, bitter couple at Daniel Wischer’s seafood restaurant. She glaring at him angrily, ‘I don’t know how, but everything you touch gets totally filthy.’ What a way to sum up the end of married life!”
The book is also a treasure trove of quick-witted responses to all situations. Examples? “The envious see the flower bed, not the spade.” Or: “The pigs change, the trough remains.”
You have to be open to his staccato style and of course like Strunk’s humour, those “one-euro gags”. His notes are absolutely narcissistic, but he also derides his own compulsive self-reflection. Through all the silly and over the top material, sadness always shines through over human existence. Strunk succeeds in tragicomically describing life’s melancholy moments, the lack of meaning and people living at the margins of misery – but free of contempt. His conclusion and resolution for the New Year is “ironic acceptance of existence”.
Strunk, Heinz: Nach Notat zu Bett. Heinz Strunks Intimschatulle
Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2019. 256 S.