Vienna’s van der Jagt (a.k.a. Arnon Grunberg, Blue Mondays, 1996, etc.) spins the classic coming-of-ager and sets the table on a roar.
Our narrator and life-explorer here is the 15-year-old Viennese boy named—amazing coincidence!—Marek van der Jagt. Or at least he’s 15 when many of the adventures befall him that he herein regales us with: the night with two girls from Luxembourg, for example, when Marek suffers the humiliation of first and fully recognizing his “handicap” (“I have the penis of a dwarf,” he announces soon after at the family dinner table, in one of many genuinely riotous moments). Marek, it seems, is in search of “l’amour fou”—even though he’s not quite certain what it is. L’amour fou doesn’t seem a compulsion for his two older brothers, both on their way to stolidity and wealth (though one does faint all the time), nor for his life-insurance-salesman father, either, a man of truly dour resignation who devotes Sundays to scraping the calluses on his feet. No, l’amour fou must come from Marek’s mother—ah, yes! of course! his beautiful mother, the misnamed Constance, who has slept (and sleeps) with most of the men of Vienna, treats her lovers with casual scorn one moment and with the giving of the gift of gifts the next, slips out of the house at whatever hour she chooses, dressed however she likes—while dour husband Ferdinand dourly counsels his sons not to notice. Van der Jagt’s dysfunctional family may be the most wondrous and most marvelously entertaining in recent memory—and one of the saddest, in its way. After all, his extraordinary, mad mother dies when Marek is just 18, under circumstances that might darken the vision of any young man, let alone that of the sensitive Marek, who, it seems, turns to the study of philosophy, though not quite leaving life behind.
Van der Jagt looses the spirit of J.P. Donleavy—and more—once again upon the world. Wonderful.