10 February 2010

The Destination / We Reached It Now We're Feeling Worse

#9 The Have-Nots (Die Habenichtse) by Katharina Hacker

I expected a lot of things out of this book and finished it feeling empty.

The Have-Nots received the 2006 German Book Award for best novel and I found it difficult to see why. With every turn of the page, I kept thinking to myself, "Okay, it's gonna get good now." Then the book was done. It never got good. It never seemed worthy of a prize to me. Fine, it's well written, I'll give it that much, but it surely did not live up to my expectations.

Perhaps I misinterpreted the synopsis when it told me that the novel focused on how the characters' lives were affected by September 11, 2001. How 9/11 changed how they looked at the world. Maybe it's because I live less than 10 miles from New York City, but 9/11 affected me far more than it did the characters. It's background noise to them. Mentioning a terrorist alert or being more observant of Arabs made it a stretch to show how 9/11 altered their perceptions.

The book is more of a commentary on those who have and those who don't. There are three plot lines that eventually interweave with one another. There's Isabelle and Jakob, a yuppie couple from Berlin who move to London for Jakob's career. They go to London instead of Jakob's colleague because he dies in the World Trade Center on 9/11. In that respect, you can say that 9/11 is a catalyst for Jakob and Isabelle. Their first date just so happens to be on 9/11. 9/11 happens to be the reason why they move to London and their lives change. But I feel as though their lives change on their own accord. The other two story lines focus on a drug dealer and a violent family with an autistic child - Isabella and Jakob's neighbors in London.

I found the book infuriating. The characters were frustrating and unlikeable. Just when I thought a character could be redeemed, something else went awry. I didn't understand what was going on at times because of the descriptions. Hacker (or the english translator) doesn't mind beating around the bush. And this may sound off, but the book was very German. I've decided I can say this because I'm half-German and have spent a considerable amount of time in Germany. There's a kind of... unapologetic bluntness surrounded the characters. They're not good people and Hacker doesn't try to make them seem like good people.

For instance, Isabelle is an enigma and not in a good way. She follows Jakob to London because why not go with Jakob to London? There's one moment toward the end of the novel when another character says to her, "You're like a black hole, anything can be poured into you and it vanishes without a trace. Nothing shows in your face..." to show how unaffected she is by everything. She's going through the motions in a manner that's so frustrating. She does what she does because... well... why not?

I've been looking forward to reading this book for a long time. I thought it would be a commentary on 9/11 and how it affected those outside of the NYC/Washington DC bubble. How 9/11 was viewed from an international perspective. But it wasn't. It was just a novel about stupid people. Whether or not they're privileged, they lead ugly lives.

Very disappointed.

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