Schweigeminuteby Published 01 Jan 2008
|Publisher||Hoffmann und Campe|
»Wir haben ... Siegfried Lenz für ein poetisches Buch zu danken. Vielleicht ist es sein schönstes.« Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Forget Prince Albert, Stella is littered with English traces. There are whiffs of The End of the Affair and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I'd like to conclude that Herr Lenz made this as an homage to his friend W.G. Sebald, another German steeped in English traditions. The plot is rather linear and self-evident. A teacher of English at a coastal German school has died. One of her students grieves and recalls their relationship, one more intimate than one would guess. The paragraphs are dynamic, switching from 1st person to second or third seamlessly.
The student, Christian, lacks the wisdom to engage this chain of events. It is his innocence which gives the reader traction. Most of the narrative occurs at sea. Lenz shines in these sequences. Whereas his youthful character slips along with platitudes, the elements murmur eternally.
It's a tragedy: Stella Petersen, a young woman, an English teacher at a high school in northern Germany, has died. The school holds a memorial service, and one by one they step up to give their eulogies: the principal, other teachers, a representative of the students.
In the audience sits Christian, one of the students. He was asked to say a few words, but while the others speak for all but one minute, he's quiet. He sits there remembering the summer, their summer, in the small seaside town with beach parties (this is the late 50s, after all), regattas, and clandestine meetings. It's a short service, so it's a short novel; in just over 100 pages, and in quick flashbacks, we get to follow Christian's and Stella's hesitant, very inappropriate, and ultimately (as we know) doomed relationship.
So, yet another novel by an aging writer reminiscing about first discovering the physical act of love, eh? Well sure, if you want to get technical, but it's a lot more than that. Though on the one hand, this is really that simple: a story about falling in love for the first time, back when everything is still life and death, everything or nothing, when you still think love is all that matters and your feelings are automatically returned. Lenz's style is wonderfully and deceptively light, letting Christian the narrator set the whole thing in such simple tones (teenagers love hard, but they're not always noted for their empathy) that we almost, but only almost, don't notice the obvious: that Stella is an adult, with a couple more years on him, and a complicated life full of issues and relationships that Christian has no part of. Christian certainly doesn't notice; he's too busy making plans of a little lighthousekeeper's house for two.
That difference in storylines, that confusion of subject and object run throughout the novel. Christian, in love with (the idea of being in love with) a person who's supposed to be an authority figure, dreaming of being her Man, struggles to be consistent in how he addresses and thinks of her; shifting between du and Sie when talking to her and between you and she when describing her to himself. It's as if he's trying to deliver a eulogy to her, yet ends up telling himself their story instead, fixing it in his memory as he wants to remember it, encasing her in amber. And throughout the novel, rock by rock, a breakwater is built outside the little town to keep the big waves from ruining the nostalgic calm.
There's a tone in A Minute's Silence that reminds me of the paintings of the Skagen painters; the wide open sky, the false nostalgia of easy life in a place where most people have to work hard for everything, the hazy North Sea light. At other times it reminds me of Isherwood's A Single Man; not just the way it's set in a single day but dealing in memories and their role in how we see (or fail to see) ourselves and relate to others, or coping with the death of a loved one, or even the way the discussion of a different book (Orwell's Animal Farm; Christian misses the point of it entirely) plays an important part in the narrative. But also the way the author manages to charge every word of his simple story and featherlight prose with meaning. If you wanted to, you could pick every paragraph apart hunting for symbolism and find it - yet that's never necessary. That's just all the little shades of blue that make up the whole picture, give it depth. Mostly, though, A Minute's Silence is just itself: a simple but haunting story about a young man, a slightly older woman, and how we become... well, slightly older. A eulogy for getting it both right and wrong.
I'm very pleased with this novella.
A sad love story, and you get to know that as soon as you start reading, of a boy and his school teacher. Falling deeply in love with her - is there any other way to fall in love when you're young? -, dreaming on the future, he's forced to face a loss he has no one to share with.
"What’s past did happen, all the same, and it will last, and in the company of pain and the sorrow that goes with it, I’ll try to find what can never be brought back."
What I don't like about this book
*using words that are not understandable for someone who is not living at the sea or was not living at that time
*using patterns of behaviour I can't identify with
*characters and their feeling unreproducible (suddenly there is something going on...how?)
*defintetly too much harmony, perfectness and corniness (oh come on, the fish thingy in the restaurant was so...ugh)
Reading my points I feel like I am too stupid for 'classics'. I am not. I understand Jane Austen and co. perfectly well.
I think what irritates me here, is that this book could already be called modern and the behaviours are so different from (for me) normal.
Seriously is it the small island atmosphere or why is nobody curious when teacher and student are alone at the beach getting cosy?
what I do like about the book
*the narrator is into her, but not that into her that he always spends time moaning for her
*even though I said its too much harmony I somehow like it. for example I like how the love from the parents is shown towards Christian. It is shy but always present.
*even though the behaviour patterns are unnormal for me, I like the old way of showing respect towards one another and being more familiar with people you normally don't have much to do with
*Stella is described as somebody who can do almost everything. good swimmer, beautiful woman, social intelligence and some good humour. It would have been too cliche for me if she [spoilers removed]
Sometimes it is the silences within a story that make the story and as paradoxical as that might sound, reading Lenz only reinforces that notion. The German edition of this book translates to A Minute of Silence, the opening scene is of a school assembly paying homage to a departed teacher. It is an almost indifferent story, not a sad one at all, the gradually building melancholic tone notwithstanding. An eighteen year old boy falls in love with his English teacher, a twenty five year old English lady in a postwar Baltic fishing town. But that is not it, you get the feeling all the way that this is the reminiscence of an old man harking back to a first love, the confusion, the pangs of jealousy. This translation is so prosaic yet beautiful, stripped of any ornamentation, that there is almost no feeling to be gleaned there in. I'd gladly recommend this. It turns out Lenz wrote it in the aftermath of his wife's death, that does indeed explains a few things.