Thursday, November 30, 2006

Birds of a feather

After battling my way through a classic German novel which shall remain nameless (hint: it's brilliant, but short on laughs), I wanted to read something fairly short and easy. I picked Günter Grass's The Meeting at Telgte, and enjoyed it immensely. Four observations:

The meeting is of German poets in 1647, towards the end of the Thirty Years War. Though the specific parallel is with the meeting of Gruppe 47 in 1947, I was struck by how accurately and entertainingly all meetings of poets were conjured. If you've ever been to a conference of poets, or even of academics, you'll chuckle your way through this book.

There's a large number of characters for such a short book, most of them sketched only in outline but with detailed characters implied. Grass's concision is extremely well-judged - he could have added fifty pages of back-story without any appreciable benefit. Most writers, I think, would have done so.

Given the recent revelations about Grass's (extremely marginal) complicity in Nazism, The Meeting at Telgte asks for a very clear reading - Gelnhausen (Grimmelshausen), Grass's counterpart in the book, is quite open about his moral compromise. I wonder how the book read before the revelations.

Lastly, I'm inspired to go and find work by the poets featured. The book's like a primer to seventeenth-century German poetry - like feeling you're on speaking terms with Marvell, Donne, Milton etc.



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