A #germanlatemonth entry for #germanlitmonth genre week (although that’s probably very naughty of me as the author refused a nomination for the Kurd-Laßwitz science fiction award.)

I love it when I can summarise a novel in a sentence.  And I can do that here.  Ready?

Beware the nanny state!

Don’t, however, think that Juli Zeh’s 2009 Corpus Delicti  is a crass piece of political polemic.  It’s actually a really intelligent, very readable dystopic utopia.  A what?  A nanny state gone wrong.

How does a nanny state start?  With the best of intentions probably.  For instance: motorway warnings “Caution –  heavy rain” or when politicians pass the legislation that is easy  (minimum price alcohol perchance) because the really important stuff is difficult.  Where does it end?  In the pages of this novel where dipping your feet into a cooling stream is a crime because of the infections you may catch.

This is the story of Mia Holl and her brother who live in a state governed by The Method which decrees that good health is the highest duty of the citizen.  And personal behaviour is monitored by the submission of monthly status reports to the authorities.  Reports must include the amount of regular exercise.  (Urgh – I suppose in this state readers like me would have to learn the art of walk-reading.)  Mia’s brother is accused wrongly of a heinous crime and Mia, initially a supporter of The Method, begins to question the validity of the judgment.  In what I suppose could be called an anti-bildungsroman, the scales fall from Mia’s eyes as she finds herself at loggerheads with the might of the nanny-state-cum-dictatorship and bound to lose.

We all know what happens when individuals find the courage to cross a dictatorship, don’t we?  Individuals who have counted the cost and are prepared to pay the price.  But, there’s a surprise in store for Mia.  A dystopic utopia can be really, really nasty in its benevolence.

I actually read this novel in August during the Edinburgh Book Festival.  Unfortunately Juli Zeh had to cancel her appearance.  Living in Scotland, though, I’ve had and will continue to have many opportunities since then to recall this novel.  Especially when I’m driving down the motorway, windscreen wipers going ten to the dozen and the motorway signs reminding me “Beware, heavy rain”.  Grrrrrr.


Translated by Sally-Ann Spencer (Meet her here.)