Translated by Anthea Bell

I was looking for some chic lit for German Literature Month’s genre week.  Not sure if any German chic lit has been translated but thought that the cover of this book signalled a specific feminine preoccupation – the battle of the bulge.  More specifically still – the losing of said battle and the longing for a waistline.

The tone of the novel is set in the first three sentences:

When I was seven I swore I’d never fall in love. When I was eighteen I fell in love anyway. It was as bad as I had feared.

Unrequited passion for a disinterested male and a lost waistline – this is a common story of teenage angst.  There are two options here: a) forget it and seek happiness elsewhere becoming bright and bubbly as you go or avoid happiness by richocheting from one loser to the next and gain another 40 kilos in the process. No prizes for guessing the road our anti-heroine Anne takes.

The darkness in her character manifests itself as a child when she and her first boyfriend, Axel Vollauf, spend time together playing doctors and nurses. Their unfortunate patients, lucky to escape this hospital alive, the frogs they find in the garden.  Anne’s relationship with Axel is doomed.  He proves to be too needy.  Thus begins a pattern that is to be repeated as Anne grows older.  She leaves those who love her, because she does not believe herself loveable.  She is carrying too much blubber.

Anne as a narrator is deadpan and full of depreciating black humour.  Anyone who has spent a lifetime yoyo-dieting only to end up heavier than they were when they started will recognise some of her self-putdowns. In true chic-lit style she shares her romantic disasters but the clues are there in the title.   This is not a love song and this is most definitely not chic-lit. Anne’s internal musings become deeper and darker until she ends up suicidal and in therapy.

It could all end tragically but Duve is subverting a genre,  not executing it. So Anne cannot die. And we know she doesn’t through Duve setting Anne’s story within a frame.  We meet Anne as she is flying to London – she as decided to visit the man with whom she is besotted in London – the man who didn’t love her 40 kilos ago and who, quite unwittingly, is ruining her life.  Time to sort her feelings out – to put this thing to bed, as it were.

This decision leads to possibly the biggest adventure of her life and a superb set-piece of Anne being the sole very large German trying to be invisible in a crowded London pub as Germany beat England in the penalty shout-out during Euro 96. Duve is very clever with the cultural references and Anne’s empathy with Gareth Southgate (who missed his shot) is revealing.

The despair in the pub presses me up against the bar. Southgate feels nothing. Southgate feels nothing yet. Only now is the despair slowly seeping into him, he mechanically mutters something, presumably something like ‘shit’, and he realises that he is the unluckiest man in the whole world and even his own mother will shun him. He thrusts his bottom jaw out slightly, but he doesn’t shed tears. I wish I knew how he manages that.

Three endings are possible. The one that ends in tears. The happy chic-lit ending. Or something else entirely. It would appear from my first – but definitely not my last – Duve, that to expect the unexpected is a de facto standard and true to form I didn’t see this ending coming.