Plenty of distance, very little relating
A man, a woman, drugs, sex, music, tea, Frankfurt, Berlin, a few friends and family members – and the plot for Leif Randt’s new book is in place.
By Swantje Schütz
It’s not really a love story, even if the quite beautifully designed cover says it’s a “love story from the 2010s”. Well, there is a man, Jerome, and there is a woman, Tanya. They sleep together, take drugs together, celebrate the enjoyment of tea, and drift, sometimes together but sometimes not, through life. And they have a long-distance relationship between Frankfurt and Berlin. Jerome is a high-earning, freelance web designer, 35 years old, who lives in his parents’ bungalow in the Main Valley outside of Frankfurt. Tanja will soon be 30, lives in Berlin-Kreuzberg and is working on her second book after her successful debut novel. As a couple they like each other, but it’s quite clear that their affection is not passionate.
Divided responseThe critics are divided about Leif Randt’s new, Leipzig Book Prize-shortlisted work Allegro Pastell. Either they highly praise it like Ijoma Mangold in DIE ZEIT, or they have issues with it, for example because there’s not much plot, but instead “on every page reports of mental states in often stiff self-assurance prose,” as Wolfgang Schneider says on Deutschlandfunk Kultur.
Passion? No such luck!The language and the reports of mental states are indeed somewhat tiring for the reader – or is it more the way the couple moves through life, superficially, without passion and compromises? The omniscient narrator reports on Tanja’s drug use, on its after-effects, its effects, with astonishing objectivity and sobriety – as if describing the effects of a day cream. Or things are “welcomed,” “appreciated,” a “theory is opined,” something is “found conceivable.” And “the high seemed surprisingly amiable” – a bit stiff considering it’s about eating psychedelic mushrooms. This must be deliberate – but that may not be obvious to every reader.
Still, we are not here to consider the sociological merits of the book. The question whether what the protagonists exemplify corresponds to reality in our society and culture is moot. The reader can simply dive into this world and curiously take a look and listen around. The end of the book finally acquires the flow that would have been good for the rest of the work. The language in the dialogues, in the e-mails, becomes authentic; shortly before the end the story, structured in very restrained language, really takes off.
Leif Randt: Allegro Pastell
Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2020. 280 S.