Look, I might be cheating here. When I picked up German Fantasia, I thought it was a short story collection. And, strictly speaking, it is. Each story stands alone as a reckoning-in-miniature with Germany’s past. But then there’s the rather disturbing presence of Viktor, a character - mostly on the periphery - who haunts the entire book: guarding a concentration camp, standing over a mass grave, facilitating Hitler’s “euthanasia program”, lurking in the fantasy of a spurned lover, dribbling into a bowl of gruel as he lurches towards death. Taken together, we see the life of a man who may or may not be the same, but who stands in place of his country.
Like most short story collections, German Fantasia is a little uneven (there are a few passages that would make worthy winners of the Bad Sex Award) but the lulls are few and quickly redeemed. When I closed the book, reeling from the astonishingly powerful final story, marvelling at the way Claudel had pulled the disparate threads together, I knew I had just experienced something akin to his magnificent earlier works Brodeck and Dog Island: a triumph of moral clarity and righteous indignation.
German Fantasia by Philippe Claudel (Tr. Julian Evans)
MacLehose Press, 2023
I enjoyed Claudel's previous books Brodeck's Report and Dog Island, so I ordered a copy of German Fantasia. What a joy to think that the book will hopefully be winging its way to me very soon. Something to look forward to.