Friday, March 4

On the Hook by Heinrich Böll

The love of your life will arrive on the 1.20pm train - but on what day?  The protagonist arrives at the station day after day for three months or more, and begins to develop delusional conspiracy theories involving the rail company, phone operators, even the blackmarketeers.

Heinrich Böll is a poetic and powerful writer, and relatively little known here in the UK despite being a Nobel prizewinner.  His sparse prose fits well with his tales of life on the Eastern front and particularly the bleak broken landscape of post-WW2 Germany.

His stories build emotion and suspense through ordinary lives and interaction, and here the paranoia and despair builds over the short simple narrative.  At first we are told that the man lives for one minute of hope as the daily train arrives and “for twenty-three hours and fifty-none minutes we balance on the razor’s edge…”, but later he says: “For that’s the terrible part about it: the minute is shrinking… I think it may be only thirty seconds now, perhaps much less…

This story comes from Böll’s short story collection ‘Children are Civilians Too’, which I first read fifteen years ago, so they deserve re-reading (I then lent the book to a good friend who has never quite got around to giving me it back, then bought another copy on eBay).  Great stories, short and quick to read, they build up a tough but at times very beautiful picture of his characters' lives.

Oddly enough, there is a Heinrich Böll cottage on Achill Island off the West Coast of Ireland, which has residencies for artists.  Böll spent time writing there.

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