Accessible, seductive, sober, a style that is as direct and clean as a knife. There is a hint of layering and depth through references to Le Corbusier and Aldo Rossi, but these fizzle out and turn into little more than local colour, the protagonists have to make a living after all, and the boom and bust cycle in the building industry is a handy complication.
But will German speaking culture ever manage to shake off the fascination of dichotomies? Either or. Science or mysticism. Dionysus or Apollo. Black or white. Mind or body.
So, Alex has two women. The one he married is intellectual and prim, Kopfmensch, the one he doesn't is sensual and doglike in her loyalty and devotion. Clearly neither relationship can work, who'd have thought. Hard to have the whole deal with half a woman. Try again, Alex.
Kitty takes fourteen year old Nina pony riding. I'm not sure why, really, as it seems a little unlikely (Nina is fourteen going on twenty, and not the horsy sort). But there's rather a lot of the unlikely here, so all par for the course. Anyway, it provides us with this memorable scene:
(Kitty) was waving at someone, trying to get the attention of a woman sitting alone on the terrace outside the café.
'It's Dr Sheridan. Let's go and say hello.'
She walked the pony straight off what remained of the trail and led it up the three shallow concrete steps towards Madeleine Sheridan, who had taken off her spectacles and placed them on the white plastic table next to her book.
Nina found herself stranded on the pony as Kitty led her past the bemused waitress carrying a tray of Orangina to a family at a nearby table. The old woman seemed to have frozen on her chair at the moment she was about to put a cube of sugar into her cup of coffee. It was as if the sight of a slender young woman in a short blue dress, her red hair snaking down her back, leading a grey pony on to the terrace of a café was a vision that could only be glanced at sideways. No one felt able to intervene because they did not fully know what it was they were seeing. It reminded Nina of the day she watched an eclipse through a hole in coloured paper, careful not to be blinded by the sun.
I found this particularly memorable because I read it on the evening of a day when I had had a vision of my own, one that left me unable to move or react because I did not fully know what it was I was seeing. Last weekend, the man in my life and his twin brother celebrated their 60th birthday, so we went away with the whole family to a charming old town called Celle, full of olde worlde half timbered houses and a town church that was built some two hundred years before America was discovered.
After a fascinating guided tour on Saturday morning, the two family groups split up as our nieces had planned a little treat for their Dad. We, that is husband, daughter number one and I, took my father-in-law for a spot of lunch in one of the old town restaurants, and just as we were starting our meal, I looked up to see someone standing at our table, grinning all over her face. I stared and stared because she looked so similar to daughter number two, and yet it couldn't possibly be, as she lives in Canada.
But it was!
It took a while for the old brain to understand what it was seeing. My older daughter said afterwards she'd have loved to have recorded on camera the facial expressions that expressed that process of initial disbelief, then growing astonishment - thank god she didn't as I'd have had to blackmail her into destroying the pictures. My riposte was that it's just as well none of us have a weak heart, even my 89 year old father-in-law.
Unfortunately, this was about the only truly memorable incident in this book, and that was purely personal to me. None of the characters really came to life. Describing their hair colour and what they're wearing doesn't really cut it. Even the green nail varnish didn't help. Unfathomable people doing unfathomable things. Yes, they are all so terribly damaged and having such a hard time. Does that make me sound heartless? Aye, I daresay, but then this didn't succeed in getting past the fictional.