Vienna as summer reading
Strange things happen in the Brunnenmarktviertel area in connection with the investigations of private eye Rock Rockenschaub. And one could also report about the criminal machinations of an unscrupulous speculator in the 1920s. Both books shed light on a side of Vienna that many will certainly not be so familiar with.
“A grey November evening. There are dim lanterns flickering through the heavy fog, the cobblestones reflecting the light in the dampness. Invisible burdens weigh heavily on all souls, Marianne Hartenthurn is coming from her father’s funeral.” What sounds like lines from a film script is actually the beginning of a fast-paced novel about the rise and fall of the Hungarian expat Kalmar and his beloved.
Drugs, fame and revengeThe author of the work published in 1925 is a Viennese writer, libretto author and film producer - Felix Dörmann. He is known to literary scholars primarily through his translations of Baudelaire and his poetry books. Yet contrary to what his turgid poems written in Baudelairean style would lead one to believe, Dörmann leaves surprisingly little room for kitschy flowery and heavily scented settings in his Jazz – and the mood that the novel constructs is no less dreary – and concentrates on the swiftly moving plot.
This novel is set in Vienna of the 1920s, in a city that as the sad remnant of the former Habsburg monarchy has become a shadow of itself. Speculators and profiteers have long taken control of the city, while the masses threaten to slide into ever-greater poverty. One face from these masses belongs to the naïve Marianne Hartenthurn who, as the daughter of an officer working for the imperial house, has enjoyed an education from a different world. Desperate, because she doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do with her life, she ends up in the hands of the profiteer Kalmar who has her trained as an exotic dancer. What follows are fame, drugs, a lover who has been driven to death and ultimately a broken heart that pines for nothing more than to take revenge on the meanwhile filthy stinking rich bank director and spouse Kalmar.
Realistic portrait of his timeWhat sounds like a penny novel seeking to be sensational in compact form, is actually structured in a way that recalls trashy writing. Yet for all the clichés that the novel offers it provides an extremely interesting image of its time. And if one believes the added excerpt from a critique that appeared at this time in the worker’s paper, it is also an extremely realistic one. Dörmann’s “Jazz” – along with all the helpful paratexts taken from old reviews and reports given by contemporaries and even an afterword by the editor – offers a good introduction for everyone who wants to deal with the esprit de vie in the 1920s. A time which at certain points of the novel – when the subject is bank speculation, property acquisition and hunger for power – seem to bear uncanny resemblance to today’s situation.
Private eye Rock Rockenschaub investigatesThe crime novel by author Manfred Rebhandl who until now has mainly become known through his Biermösel novels seems to be a bit less serious, but no less exciting. The writer, a native of Upper Austria, expresses his talent through his humorous, crude exaggerations, which there is no lack of in his The Sword of the East. In fact there is hardly a page in this book that is not politically entirely incorrect. Nazis, Jews, gays, people of a different race, individuals living off social welfare, drug dealers, Turks, eco-feminists, you name it. There is hardly a social group that is not exaggerated by Rebhandel, turned into a cliché or made fun of. And the super-cool super-dude sleuthhound Rock Rockenschaub who works as a temp in a porno cinema to make a bit of money on the side is certainly no exception.
When the manager of the cinema, Dirty Willy, is found brutally beat up, the furious private detective embarks upon a personal vendetta. At the same time violence doesn’t really seem to be his thing. The sleuthhound would much rather relax and smoke marihuana with his flatmate, the drug dealer Lemmy, and watch his favourite porno film “Jack licks up”. But in real life things often don’t turn out the way you want them to and so before peace can return to the neighbourhood he first has to confront a group of Turkish men who go head over heels in their veneration of the phallus. This neighbourhood is the area bordering on the Viennese Yppenplatz, which is described by Rebhandl in endearing terms.
This detailed portrait of a Viennese district with all its humorous and exaggerated social criticism was probably decisive for the book being nominated for the Leo Perutz crime novel prize of 2012. It will be interesting to see whether Rock Rockenschaub or Manfred Rebhandl with his endearing rowdy literature will once again win the day.
Both books are certainly a hot tip for summer reading and should accompany you on vacation. And all of the readers who have taken a liking for Rebhandl’s private eye Rock Rockenschaub will be happy to learn that the author has already published a second volume.
Dörmann, Felix: Jazz. Wiener Roman. Wiener Literaturen 2, ed. Alexander Kluy. Vienna: March 2012. ISBN: 978-3-9024-9855-7
Rebhandl, Manfred: Das Schwert des Ostens (The Sword of the East): Czernin Verlag: Vienna 2012. ISBN 978-3-7076-0403-0