Who’s Sorry Now? #GermanLitMonth

Zoran Drvenkar: Sorry

I’ve just spent ten minutes writing, erasing and rewriting the first sentence of this review. I still can’t quite make up my mind about this book. There were parts of it which appealed to me: the setting, a few (very few) of the characters (Tamara, Wolf and the lovely elderly couple living opposite them), some passages of great power, anger and insight. But there were downsides too: the graphic violence and descriptions of paedophilia, being in the head of a remorseless criminal, characters you could not really care for (even if you felt sorry for some of them), the deliberate confusion of points of view to make the story more exciting.

It all starts rather too slowly for what then descends into a race against time kind of thriller. We hear a little too much about how Kris lost his job and found his calling in apologising for others. We spend far too long in the company of Tamara and her sister, then watch her and Frauke shopping to cook dinner to cheer up their friend Kris. I’m not sure what we have to gain by getting to know the back story of Wolf’s doomed love affair with a junkie. The back stories of the four friends are too long and irrelevant for what the book turns out to be. The only back story which does count is that of the killer – and that is given to us in dribs and drabs – rightfully so, as it heightens the tension.

The premise of the book is really appealing: these four friends in their late 20s, who thought they’d have made a success of their lives in Berlin by now, decide to start their own company and offer apologies for companies or individuals who have wronged people (unfair dismissal, bullying, etc.). Soon they have a roaring business and a long waiting list. Apparently, people are willing to pay good sums of money to cleanse their conscience. But then they end up in a house to apologise to a woman whom they find murdered and hung on the wall (I told you it was graphic). The murderer (their client) threatens that he will harm their families if they don’t clean up the mess and send him proof of it. And that’s when things derail and they all start behaving irrationally, not to say foolishly.

Old villas on the Wannsee in Berlin, the setting for much of the book.

The motivations are often puerile and random, and there is something of the grotesque about certain situations (the repeated attempts at burying the body, for example, has a farcical quality reminiscent of frenetic silent comedies). Then the tone changes and there is real menace or darkness, as well as frequent moments of sadness and despair. The tone veers too wildly from one to the next, it feels like the author is not quite in control of the narrative voice. Which, of course, isn’t helped by the fact that it also swoops from first to second to third person. Add to that the final bit of clever clogs-iness: the ‘before’ and ‘after’ timeline and lots of foreshadowing and commentary by an omniscient narrator – and you will find me well and truly irked!

So, overall, although it was fun (in a gruesome, reading-through-your-fingers kind of way), it was not the most memorable of reading experiences for #GermanLitMonth. I have bought his second novel Du (You) though, which is written entirely in the second person, because I have every confidence in the opinions of FictionFan and Margot Kinberg.


21 thoughts on “Who’s Sorry Now? #GermanLitMonth”

  1. It sounds as though there’s lots in this book that would more than irk me! I’d better not read it.

    And I know just what you mean about not making up your mind about a book – and writing and re-writing the first (and the next) sentence of a review. Great review in the end!

  2. Wannsee is by all accounts a place for both romance and horror! Have you read the House on the Lake? 🙂

  3. Thank you for the kind mention, Marina Sofia. I hope you’ll like Du better than this one. You know, I actually thought of reading Sorry myself, but didn’t choose it. It’s probably just as well, as I think I’d have a hard time with some of the themes. Still, I’m glad you enjoyed some of the characters.

  4. I read one of his YA novels and liked it but I didn’t think I he was a subtle writer. This sounds entirely too gruesome for me. I got a collection of his Christmas stories and have high hopes for those. We will see. Thank you for participating. You’ve been quite busy already. Off to the next post. I’m late. I was quite ill.

  5. Hmmm. No, I would be irked too. Not only because of the graphic nature of stuff, but also because of the plot and style inconsistencies. At least by suffering through it you’ve save some of us the trouble! 🙂

    1. It wasn’t suffering – I quite enjoyed it in parts. And it certainly kept me galloping through. I felt really sorry about some of the deaths though, it seemed so needless.

  6. Ooh, a rather mixed reaction there! It’s a long time since I read it, but I do remember finding some of the scenes overly graphic, but I loved the premise and writing. You’ll be glad to hear, though, that I think You is vastly superior in all sorts of ways, though it can get pretty dark too – but again from my notoriously bad memory not quite as graphic. Thank you for the kind link, and I shall await your judgement with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation… and I’ll put my running shoes on, just in case… 😉

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