Two men who want to disappear. One of them ends up having to look for the other. And when he finds him, there’s a lot of talking and drinking. A new case for Friedrich Ani’s detective Tabor Süden.
By Holger Moos
Who hasn’t been keen to escape their life at some point? Who hasn’t stood at a train station, looking at the ever-changing display board of departing trains, and lost all sense of space and time? Friedrich Ani’s new novel Der Narr und seine Maschine [The Fool and his Machine] begins with two men standing, oblivious, in the Munich cityscape. Yet rather than simply experiencing fleeting doubts about life, for both of them there is an existential sense of being lost. They are tired of life in the full sense of the word.
One of the two is Tabor Süden, a former detective chief inspector in the Missing Persons Unit of the Munich Criminal Police and a former private detective, who quit his job after the tragic death of a colleague. Resigning led to a life whose “days began with darkness and ended in darkness.” Now he finds himself on the station concourse, wanting to leave everything behind.
Waiting for Day XThe other world-weary man is Cornelius Hallig. Writing as Georg Ulrich, he used to be a very successful author of crime novels. But past glory and success don’t mean anything to him. He, too, is plagued by an inner darkness. He staggers through the city on a hot July day, his woollen coat not suited to the temperatures at all.
For decades, he has been living in a hotel. His mother used to live there with him, but ever since her passing, he has been waiting for his own Day X. He visits the places of his past, “memory ruins”, like an animal looking for a suitable place to die: “As if in a trance or under hypnosis, he had followed the fragments and grimaces of his dreams, unsettled by the transformation of those illusions into real streets, buildings and faces. As if he were his own dream catcher whose magic would drive out the darkest shadows.”
Regulars of timelessnessTabor Süden’s disappearance is forestalled by his former boss. She convinces him to start looking for Hallig. Süden, who “commanded countless kinds of silence”, moves into the same hotel Hallig used to live in and begins his unorthodox inquiries, practising a kind of investigative method acting.
Of course Süden finds the missing writer. The two soulmates meet in the Munich suburb of Haidhausen, at the Johannis Café, where time seems to stand still. Since the café’s opening in 1924, there have been eight popes, but only three publicans. It is a “no man’s land, packed with regulars of timelessness.” By far the two oldest guests that evening, they drink, brood and stay silent for long periods of time.
An HomageAni’s novel is an homage to American crime writer Cornell George Hopley Woolrich and his gloomy oeuvre. Just like the character of Cornelius Hallig a.k.a. Georg Ulrich, Woolrich spent most of his life writing in hotel rooms, next door to his mother. Woolrich died of a stroke in just such a hotel room in the early autumn of 1968. Friedrich Ani’s novel is prefaced by a Woolrich quote: “I was only trying to cheat death. I was only trying to stay alive a brief while longer, a little while past my time. A fool and his machine.“ Interested readers will find Ani’s essay about the links between his novel and Woolrich’s life on culturmag.de.
In the author’s usual fashion, Ani’s book is ostensibly a crime novel yet offers little in the way of suspense and certainly no action, instead captivating readers with its literary soul-searching. For Süden, it ends where it began – at the train station, Hallig’s typewriter case in his hands. Now it is Süden who embodies the fool and his machine. In light of his increasing dispiritedness, we can’t help but worry about Ani’s hero and wonder just how much longer he can go on like this.
Ani, Friedrich: Der Narr und seine Maschine
Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2018.143 S.
You can also find this title in our Onleihe