Translated by Robert E Goodwin

EVERYTHING’S TURNING. And everything’s turning round him. It’s insane, but I’m even tempted to think that he’s sneaking around the house right now – with or without a dagger. Although he’s supposed to have left, and I’m just hearing crickets and the distant barking of dogs in the night.

I was a bit surprised when I read that first paragraph as I hadn’t been expecting a thriller.  I was right and this paragraph reads entirely differently after completing the novel.  It declares its intentions quite shamelessly in the first sentence:  EVERYTHING’S TURNING.

The young lawyer, Clarin, decides to spend some time at his home in the Swiss Alps, where he meets Loos, an older man.  The two strike up  a  friendship during which they meet, eat, drink and discuss the pecularities of life.  Loos appears to be in mourning the loss of his wife, although it’s not clear at first whether this is through separation or death, while the hedonist Clarin is – shall we say – between conquests and a complete cynic with regard to matrimony.  His experience is based on his work in the divorce courts.

I’m taking about the marriage ladder, where you climb down from desire to liking, to pleasant habit, to listlessness, all the way to aversion and possibly hatred.  Then comes the hour of porfessional or non-professional counsellors, and maybe a see-through negligee or a desperate tanga provides a few last sparkes, and then it’s the lawyer’s turn.

Loos’s philosophy is not aligned to Clarin’s, yet it is not diametrically opposed – that would be far too crass for the pages of this book.  He is, however, world-weary.  During the initial conversations, he doesn’t say much. Nonetheless and with hindsight (remember I now know the ending), he is also a controlling presence.  There are times when Clarin feels threatened by his brooding solidity.  It feels very much as though Loos is on the edge of losing his sanity and control.

But as the first paragraph shows, that’s Clarin.  So at what point in a series of philosophical conversations about love and life do the tables turn and what’s the trigger?  I won’t reveal, if fact after one reading I can’t reveal, because this turning point happened much sooner than I realised.  Loos obviously puts two-and-two together much quicker than I did (unless, of course, he recognised Clarin even before that initial meeting – a point I think could be debated) and from that moment on he is the cat to Clarin’s mouse.

I suspect I’d enjoy this novel much more second time around.  It is, in effect, simply a series of internal monologues and conversations between two blokes.  Quite dry, a bit dull in places.  At times I didn’t think I’d get to the end of its 120 pages.  Then the undercurrents began to pull …. and now, I’m looking forward to a reread, to pinpoint those critical moments, to admire the authorly control all the more.  Who would have guessed?  Here comes that first sentence again.  EVERYTHING’S TURNING.