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"Who could find funny what one saw and experienced?"

From the big and global it goes into the small, intimate.

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"Who could find funny what one saw and experienced?"

From the big and global it goes into the small, intimate. After “Krass” – the portrait of a larger-than-life powerful man from 2021 that stretches from Naples to Cairo, from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages – Martin Mosebach has now written a chamber play. One of the laws of the genre is that every look counts twice here, every word reverberates as if echoed back from the walls.

The first part of "Taube und Wildente", Mosebach's first novel after moving to dtv, is set in southern French light. Marjorie and Ruprecht live in a country house in Provence every summer, La Chaumière. "Own" would be wrong, because it belongs to a family foundation on Marjorie's side, who is the rich heir to a fortune dating back to (Belgian) colonial times, but is not independent, either financially or spiritually: she is ruled by the strict spirit of an upper-class patriarch , who, years after his death, still determines the rules of the property, from the table arrangement to the staff to the artfully maintained neglect that marks the difference to bourgeois perfectionism.

People move in circles that downplay their wealth and draw status awareness from it. Marjorie claims the right to be a brute because she can't tell the difference between truth and wickedness.

Her husband Ruprecht Dalandt, an esthete who runs a renowned small publishing house in Frankfurt, has it twice as difficult, because he is both a guest and host in what he thinks is his own house – he has a new editor named Sieglinde Stiegle and his commercial right hand Allmendiger for a summer Working leave requested in Provence.

At the same time there is family; Ruprecht's stepdaughter Paula from Marjorie's first marriage and her five-year-old daughter Nike; plus Paula's friend, an ambitious but untalented musician, who becomes the preferred victim of Marjorie's meanness: "There are three kinds of pianists, Jewish pianists, gay pianists and bad pianists - what do you belong to?" The newly arrived Editor Stiegle, who thinks Marjorie is her colleague's lover, is given the following poisoned praise at dinner: "You're obviously one of those smart women who don't care about the looks of their partners."

The heartless open-heartedness that is de rigueur in La Chaumière is paired with neurotic reticence. Everyone carries secrets with them. Paula does not want to reveal the father of her child at any price. Marjorie has an ongoing affair with the quirky, powerfully manly estate manager.

Above all, however, Ruprecht is tormented by a misstep that makes him study Dante's visions of hell for his own writing project: seven years ago he experienced the ultimate erotic fulfillment in a forbidden love. "The unexpectedly heavy punishment for what happened was that there should be no after, even if the heart pumped the blood through the vein for years to come."

The oppressively humid south has the climate of a Dantesque ice hell; even humor does not mean closeness and warmth here, but baring of teeth: “But why did so many people like to laugh? After all, who could find funny what one saw and experienced? Everything happened according to well-known and predictable laws, but they were all inevitable. Where was the surprise in that?” It's as if the country house, once built with the blood of exploited peoples, is holding its occupants accountable down to the last link. It is only logical that business matters penetrate to the core of the already fragile bones of a relationship.

Into this reality populated by the living damned, Mosebach now allows painting to penetrate as an alternative draft. Even the setting at the foot of the famous Montagne Sainte-Victoire endows the novel's plot with the aura of art; the house is, according to Allmendiger, the numbers man, of all people, “inserted into a gigantic three-dimensional Cézanne painting”.

A (small) Cézanne also hangs on the walls, along with Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Maurice de Vlaminck – all of these cursed family inheritances – and the eponymous still life “Pigeon and Wild Duck” by the now almost forgotten Frankfurt Academy painter Otto Scholderer. (Of course, the self-confessed anti-avant-gardist Mosebach also provides art-philosophical observations, for example on the concept of kitsch and the derogatory syllable "late".)

When Ruprecht suddenly has an aesthetic awakening experience in front of this hardly noticed picture and the truth of the work of art tears the inauthenticity of his serene intellectual existence like a veil, he sets in motion a chain of events that will soon destroy the entire fragile structure of life: marriage, the family, the house, the publisher. The complicated construct of non-aggression pacts, unspoken agreements, dissimulations and apparent indifference becomes a ruin like the decrepit country house in an autumn storm.

In the second part, set in Frankfurt's autumn and winter, Mosebach lets the summer's emotional outbursts sink into resigned heaviness. But even that is not the last word on the underestimated late work called Ehe. “Where was the surprise in that?” Here, in this painting of a novel executed to perfection in the style of the old masters.

Martin Mosebach: "Pigeon and wild duck". dtv, 336 pages, 24 euros.

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