Wherever you go, you can’t get rid of yourself
She’s seen it all, is above it all, and a bit embittered. That’s how Sophie Passmann portrays her young protagonist. It’s a reckoning with the millennials, but also an admission: hardly anyone is truly individual, and that’s OK.
By Natascha Holstein
Moving into a new apartment at the age of 27 is nothing special in itself. Most people have moved house, seen a few streets, and moved to a new city once in a while. So far, so normal. Often extolled as a completely fresh start, though, a move does lend itself to being the starting point for a book. In Sophie Passmann’s latest work Komplett Gänsehaut (Complete Goosebumps) we find ourselves in the middle of this situation.
Cynical social analysisAt the beginning, the protagonist is sitting in her empty new living room. Reading between the lines, you can see how she got there – a separation, a move out of a shared apartment. The narrator demonstratively avoids wallowing in self-pity as if all that didn’t matter very much. “Heartbreak is the emotional equivalence of a long weekend in Zürich – extremely expensive and ultimately not worth the trouble […]“, she writes, adding that there would be “no wallowing“. Without any background, one is drawn right into the protagonist’s social analysis of a very specific part of society, the part to which the narrator herself belongs: middle-class millennials. The people to whom she refers have rarely had to think about how to finance their room in shared accommodation; they go out for lunch at an Italian restaurant instead of the canteen once in a while, and have huge bookshelves packed with world literature.
It’s about heartbreak, but is not a heartbreak book; it’s about friendships, but is not a friendship book; the protagonist reflects the author in many ways, but it is not an autobiography; it’s about Nazis and politics, but is not political non-fiction. First and foremost, it is a settlement of scores with her own filter bubble. The monologue is in three parts: apartment, street, city. The protagonist makes a cynical analysis, thoughts strung together almost breathlessly. She herself appears to feel above it all. While somehow realising she is part of this filter bubble and this system, she privately regards herself as a bit better and more reflective than most other people, including her own friends. Finally, she suspects Nazis almost everywhere: in the street, at the kitchen table, at a wine tasting. When you’re 27, simply everything feels more extreme: outrage, love, being alone. Complete goosebumps, like the title of the book. She doesn’t come across as being particularly likeable, nor does she have to, says Passmann. And now and then the protagonist does show there is more to her than her seen-it-all indifference, particularly in her friendship with a twelve-year-old girl.
Caught in the actSince the book was published, its readers and reviewers (at least those under 40) associate one thing more than any other with the monologue. They feel as if they had been caught in the act. Pizza with goat’s cheese and beetroot really sounds quite delicious. Yes, I have become rather proud of my record collection. And, damn it, that pulp fiction poster is up on the bathroom wall of the flat I share too. So is Passmann trying to hold up the mirror to us, or is she even making fun of us? “I myself correspond to around 95 per cent of all the clichés hated in this book. Everyone will recognise themselves somewhere here and that’s not such a bad thing,“ says the author in a 1 LIVE Stories interview.
That may be a bit of what characterises Komplett Gänsehaut. You feel caught in the act, catch out people around you, and then, in the next situation, ask yourself what exactly is going wrong for the protagonist. The book makes you laugh, confuses you and in the end sends you off to ponder. You can pick up a few words of Passmann’s wisdom along the way, because the city and apartment where you live when you’re 27 are the places where you realise that wherever you go, you can’t get rid of yourself. “Wherever you go, you always take yourself along. And that is the worst and the best thing one can say about adulthood.
Sophie Passmann: Komplett Gänsehaut
Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2021. 192 p.