Come Closer – Sara Gran

Taut, tightly written with a beautifully timed flow to the climax. An excellent book on the subject of demon possession. Gram expertly laces the ambiguity between possession and mental illness in a manner that brings to mind Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The reoccurring and sensually hypnotic scenes on the crimson sanded beach with the blood red sea are still behind my eyes.

All for Nothing – Walter Kempowski

All For Nothing, recently released by The New York Review of Books, takes place in East Prussia in winter of 1945 when the German army is in retreat and the Red Army is rapidly encroaching. There is a mass exodus of refugees fleeing in below zero weather, with over 300,000 perishing. The well-to-do von Globig family goes about its insulated days in its warm and comfortable manor, the Georgenhof, barely registering the imminent doom they face. Although Katharina, the mother with her head in the clouds, is warned by her husband via telegram from Italy to flee, she takes no concrete action, seemingly invincible in the family citadel, reading, cutting flower silhouettes from black paper, window gazing from her room while her bookish son, Peter, is left to view these events from his unquestioning child’s eye. The Georgenhof however, becomes a pit-stop for fleeing refugees, including a stamp collecting pollical economist, a Nazi violinist, a painter, a baron, and a Jewish refugee. The violinist even plays while rumbling sounds of fighting can be heard in the distance, recalling Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Vagueness and an inability to connect however, do not keep danger at bay and reality shatters the von Globig family forever. Peter, the young son, is the only one to escape from the old world to the new.
What makes this book remarkable is the restraint with which Kempowski writes in that he leaves the emotion for the reader to fill in on his own. This opens the story to multitudes of interpretation as perceptions of the same event can result in different points of view. Similar what could be called The Isherwood I Am A Camera style (although Isherwood never used that phrase and apparently became annoyed when asked about it) facts are given, with, in this case, almost no embellishment. Kempowski exercises this technique to perfection. He shows great respect to the reader by trusting him/her to interpret mere facts, albeit through his own lens.
Max Frisch expressed this technique (though not this book) very well in an interview when he said, “There are other ways to show them—body language, or silence—that can be very strong. And maybe, too, one has a distrust of words; one fears that they won’t be interpreted correctly. It’s very difficult to describe a feeling and not to lie a little bit, to put it on a higher level or to blind yourself. So I don’t trust myself to describe my feelings, but I like to show them by a piece of art. And as a reader I’m the same, I don’t like it if the author tells me what I have to feel. He has to urge the reader to get a feeling of shame or of hope. So there’s a lot of feeling, there’s a lot of emotion, but . . . not expressed in words.”
Perhaps the reason Kempowski exercised such restraint is that it meant too much to him. According to Kempowski, “Peter,’ obviously, is me – a second, a multiple self-portrait. Without that, I could not have written the book.”

Deadly Partnership: Murder, Blackmail and Voices from the Spirit World – Richard Gardner

Murder, blackmail, and voices from the spirit world. Yes, Richard Gardner’s Deadly Partnership is. This is one of the tightest, twist-turning psychological and psychic novels I’ve read in a while. Not a word is wasted.

A priggish, button-up sort is set upon by an unknown, or almost unknown, assailant and is buried alive. Flash forward to meet Paul Jenkins, a friendly, charming widower. After a satisfying career, Paul decides to retire and move back in with his sister by the English seaside. Upon his arrival, the pragmatic Paul is surprised to find that his sister, following the death of their parents, has developed an interest in spiritualism. She is not only attending seances, she invites the medium to their home.

While Julia is fascinated by the messages the medium relays from their mother, Paul dismisses them as vague, mumbo-jumble tripe uttered by a scam artist. Julia is first offended by Paul, but then agrees with him after an urgent warning from the medium not to let Paul move in with her. Defensive of her brother, Julia allows him to move in with her. Paul is charmed by his new life by the sea where he grew up, falling right back in with his old high school friends (while being appalled at how age has ravaged them) and rekindling a romance with his first love, Angela, who’s heart he broke years ago.

Paul enlists his son, Gary, to do construction work on their home. One night while Julia is vacationing in Greece, Paul and Gary are awoken from one of their mother-of-all hangovers (yes, there are several in the book, all at terribly inconvenient times as hangovers are wont to be) by noises downstairs. Father and son surprise a young burglar who rushes Paul. Paul, armed with a hammer, swings, and the curly blond youth is out for the count. Truly out for the count. Gary urges Paul to call the police, but Paul is wary of not being believed and prevails on his son to assist him in burying the dead lad under the porch they are building. Gary is shocked at the way his kind and loving father so coolly decides upon this course of action, out of keeping with the image of the father he always had. However, father knows best, and Gary assists in disposing of the body.

All is safe now. Or is it? The kid was acting alone, wasn’t he? And the dead are silent, aren’t they?
This fast-paced novel flies by in one surprising turn after the next where nothing is what it seems. Author Richard Gardner knocks over the reader’s assumptions like so many dominoes.

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