A new release from Juli Zeh is a cause for celebration in these parts. I loved the combination of philosophy and page-turning suspense that I encountered in Dark Matter. So too the utopic dystopia of The Method. I’m saving her debut Eagles and Angels for a rainy day (and as there are plenty of those in Scotland, I must be waiting for a deluge.) Decompression, however, had to be read in the week that Rossetti went gallivanting to Lanzarote with a pal. (I don’t do beach holidays.)
Set – you guessed it – on Lanzarote, Decompression must be Juli Zeh’s most accessible novel to date. I believe it reflects her new-found-but-real-life passion for deep sea diving and there’s a lot to be learned about it in these pages. Nothing, it must be said to entice me below water but nevertheless, interesting – no, terrifying. I don’t like being out of my depth.
The protagonist, Sven, a trained lawyer, has escaped Germany – not because he is a fugitive but because he finds it too constricting. Together with Antje, his live-in girlfriend, he has established a diving school. Antje is the reason for his success. She does all the grafting and the paper work so that Sven can concentrate on his passion, the diving, the underwater world. She has loved him since forever. Sven, however, isn’t even comfortable calling her his girlfriend. She’s nothing but a convenience and he’s not even grateful. Unsympathetic? I’d say so.
But he’s not a patch on the pair that are paying 14,000 Euro for exclusive access to his tuition for a fortnight. The beautiful, German soap opera starlet, Jola, and her partner Theo, a middle-aged author with writer’s block, are, on the face of it, a dream team for Sven, but they are locked in a toxic relationship, the whirlpools and maelstroms of which Sven simply isn’t equipped to negotiate or avoid. As the three of them dive deeper and deeper, Sven is sucked with centrifugal force into a trap. The question to be answered is why Jola and her partner, Theo, would even bother. The answer to that is the key to the novel and it’s not pleasant. In fact, it’s downright shabby.
Discerning the truth of the matter isn’t that easy because the story has two narratives – a third-person written from Sven’s point-of-view and a first-person diary written by Jola. The two stories harmonise at the start but as the fortnight passes by, discrepancies appear and soon they are worlds apart. There’s a master manipulator at work here …
…. and the climax identifies the person clearly. My only gripe is that it is too clearly sign-posted and I would have preferred a more ambiguous outcome but it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the novel.
Recommended for book groups (psychological analysis of the main characters is fodder for hours of discussion), fans of Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.