All narrators are unreliable in this bewildering fencing match between a children’s-book author and a cultural anthropologist-turned-journalist.
The debut novel by Pletzinger, translated from the German, employs a surprisingly unique style to advance its unusual tale of storytellers and their self-deceptions. It opens with seven postcards written by journalist Daniel Mandelkern to his estranged wife Elisabeth, who also happens to be his editor. Daniel is chafing because he’s been assigned to interview the mysterious and reclusive children’s-book writer Dirk Svensson, author of the world-famous The Story of Leo and the Notmuch. “For almost two years, I’ve been writing for Elisabeth’s editorial department,” he complains. “I’ve questioned and profiled people for her, I’ve taken down life stories in shorthand and summarized worldviews, I’ve fulfilled her requests…I take notes because I want to put things in order (I want to sort myself out).” With his wife’s dried blood—left unexplained—on his hands, Mandelkern reluctantly journeys to a remote area northeast of Milan, where he’s met by a taciturn Svensson, his three-legged dog, a small but pretty Finnish woman and a young boy. The woman’s relationship to the writer is unclear, but she provides insight into Svensson’s character. “Everything Svensson says is made up, Manteli, you can write that,” she says. “Svensson collects fragments and assembles them into a world he can bear.” Along the way, Mandelkern meets an insane neighbor; finds a house full of artwork surrounding a person who cannot paint; and unearths a mysterious manuscript.
The story often meanders and can be somewhat frustrating, but those who make it to the end of this eccentric tale will have enjoyed an undeniably uncommon journey. Pletzinger is a unique young voice emerging from the hotbed of the German literary scene.