Translated from German by Lucy Jones
“She hardly eats a thing and ends up drinking instead … And then there’s a split second when she changes into someone else. …. She’s taken over by an alien force – I call it the hour between dog and wolf.”
Kai is speaking of his girlfriend, Ines, to the unnamed narrator who is also Ines’s younger sister. She has just returned to Frankfurt am Main from a few years in Rome, and, is not unduly surprised to find Ines beat a track to her door to ask for financial help. That has always been the way of things, but this time the narrator is determined to change the script.
Drunks can only be helped when they are ready to be, and Ines has some way to go before she hits her low point. Until that time there follows a series of episodes around and about Frankfurt, which nearly always end in some kind of drunken incident. Ines, for all her complications, is a lucky girl. She has people who care for her, whether it be an infatuated redheaded receptionist or her boyfriend, Kai. The sibling relationship is more complex. Her younger sister is, at first, motivated by self-preservation, which gradually morphs into a sincere desire to help.
But it’s not straightforward. Particularly when the narrator falls for Kai. You can see why. The man is a bit of a saint. Actually, a lot of a saint. Though you have to wonder whether his willingness to be on 24-hour call to mop up Ines’s mess isn’t actually validating and reinforcing her behaviour. It’s not until circumstances separate her from her circle that she begins “to wake up”.
As for the narrator, well, she has her own issues and preoccupations. Modern-day self-obsessions. She has just returned “home” after a broken marriage in Rome. She begins a relationship with a work colleague, and then the relationship with Kai. At one point she says she chooses for Ines and Kai and drops the other romance. I couldn’t work out what that means for the now established love triangle, because it’s at this point that she becomes genuinely concerned for Ines and the two sisters grow closer.
Scheuermann does not judge. The narrative is scrupulously objective in style. But I wasn’t quite so neutral regarding this vacuous lifestyle full of first world problems, and a cast which needs to “grow up”. Then I remembered. I did my “growing-up” in Frankfurt am Main in the 1980’s. I, too, had an Eiserner Steg moment ..
“Then I stood in the middle of the Eiserner Steg footbridge … and I looked out at the River Main, a gurgling mass of black water, a force that flowed out then back on itself, and I suddenly felt as though I too was part of an uncanny river surging forward, as if I would end up in an eddy I could no longer control …”
Perhaps the 4-decades younger Lizzy had more in common with this narrator than the older one is prepared to admit.