Why is a stone stuck

New novel by Heinrich Steinfest: "The Chauffeur"

Status: 11/6/2020 1:22 p.m.

"Der Allesforscher", "Die B├╝glerin" and now "Der Chauffeur" - you might think that the Austrian Heinrich Steinfest had a weakness for different professions.

by Katja Weise

At least that is what the titles of some of his novels suggest. As for the genre, it is not fixed. The only thing that is clear is that his steadily growing work includes a number of excellent crime novels - including those about the one-armed private detective Markus Cheng.

It's strange, but strange - as readers of Heinrich Steinfest know - there is a lot in his novels. The name of the man who has been driving an important politician through the area for years is Paul Klee of all people.

Challenges to the readers

I found that very inconvenient, because we normally associate Paul Klee with a well-known graphic artist and painter, but this story takes place in our time. I would have always thought it was an awkward name, but I can't help it, the author confesses.

In this way, Heinrich Steinfest repeatedly challenges himself, inventing hooks and a couple of eyelets around which he stretches his story threads in a virtuoso and adventurous way. In any case, Paul Klee is marked by the experience of a serious car accident in which a child was killed. You can see that in him.

It was like a series of cracks running through a cracked pane. Maybe both: restriction and reinforcement. Like the famous work of art by Marcel Duchamp entitled "The Great Glass", which is a painted, two-part glass plate that broke when it was transported back from an exhibition. There is no question that this surrealistic object works much better with its cracks, i.e. its flaws, than without it. Reading sample

Suffering from guilt

Klee is not directly to blame for this. If, however, instead of saving his employer, he had first looked after the child in the neighboring car, the boy could still be alive. It is these irresolvable dilemmas that play a central role in almost all of Heinrich Steinfest's books.

"It's something that happened to me in my own life, and I think it's something that everyone knows in one form or another: this, not having saved someone, not being there at the right moment to feel something as guilty. We also feel guilty with things where this guilt is not assigned to us, "explains Steinfest.

A fresh start as a hotelier

In any case, the chauffeur is forced to give up his job. Right in the first chapter. After that, things continue at breakneck speed: Klee founds a small, fine hotel, partner in the new job and in life becomes the real estate agent who brokered the house for him.

Everything goes well for a while. Then a guest disappears under mysterious circumstances, a former detective investigating unsolved cases, and Sputnik II, shot into space by the Russians over sixty years ago, with the dog Laika on board, lands in a meadow near the hotel . Including bitch.

The storyteller Steinfest is only moderately interested in the laws of probability, he spins his stories thread by thread and, surprisingly, somehow keeps track of things. You have to like that, sometimes it's a lot, but the (black) humor of Steinfest, the desire for oddities helps.

Black humor with a sense of the strange

The scene in which the ex-chauffeur risks his life because one of these bicycle trailers, which are often used as a pram, has rolled into a river, is just as shocking as it is funny.

His right arm grabbed the air flowing over the surface of the water, as if to pull himself up there on an invisible hook. Perhaps you can say it would have been easier to get a child out of the car than to pull the whole vehicle back on land. But a look inside confirms the fact that there was no human or animal in it. But a bag. A ladies handbag. Pink leather. Reading sample

This is pure stone festival. There is a whole lot of that in this novel, which is bursting with stories, but with all the whimsical pleasure never loses its tragic foundation.

The chauffeur

Page number:
368 pages
Publishing company:
Order number:
22,00 €

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NDR culture | New books | 11/11/2020 | 12:40 p.m.