Set primarily in London, this excruciatingly dark novel from Hacker (The Lifeguard, 2002, etc.), which won the 2006 German Book Prize, uses the colliding fates of a vapid middle-class German couple, an abused British child and a vicious petty criminal to reflect the malevolent undercurrents rumbling through post-9/11 Europe.
Jakob, a German lawyer, is scheduled for a meeting at the Twin Towers on 9/11. But serendipitously, he returns to Berlin a day early to attend a party where he knows he’ll find Isabelle, for whom he’s been pining since their brief encounter years before. Within months of their lucky reunion, Jakob and Isabelle marry and move to London, where Jakob takes over the position of a colleague who did not skip the New York meeting and died. Jakob researches restitution for holocaust survivors while Isabelle continues to work for her Berlin graphic design firm from their rental house. Next door lives Sara, a frail, possibly retarded little girl who is regularly beaten by her father, who keeps her locked up during the day. Down the block lives Jim, a petty criminal whose girlfriend has disappeared. Although he does show reluctant kindness to Sara and her older brother, Jim is damaged goods, possibly sociopathic. Heedless of the menace around them, Jakob and Isabelle flirt with sexual danger, both together—in an ambiguous relationship with one of Jakob’s coworkers—and apart. Jakob finds himself caught in sexual confusion concerning his aging gay Jewish boss. Isabelle finds herself drawn to Jim. At first the attraction seems mutual, but anger, not lust, is Jim’s guiding emotion. He sees through Isabelle, who has walked through her charmed life unaware of her effect on others. He uses the hapless Sara to teach Isabelle a lesson in consequences. Hacker overloads her often hateful characters with predictable emotional baggage in this metaphor-laden story about the world’s moral decay.
Deeply depressing fare that leaves a sour aftertaste.