This month’s challenge was to read a book with a number in the title, which I was actually pretty excited for! Trawling the adult fiction section in my local library (since I was really in the mood to change things up a little at the beginning of the month), I came across Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett – a book I knew absolutely nothing about (except that, having been published under the Penguin Classics imprint, it must be a classic), but which I had a good feeling about nonetheless. Unfortunately, the book was recalled before I actually got a chance to start on it. 😦 So, after a second visit to the library, I finally decided on…
Set in East Berlin in the 1970s, this book follows Alex Ostermann, a rebellious teenager who falls afoul of the Stasi for the grave crime of having long hair and liking rock music. As you can probably tell from my tone there, I wasn’t really able to take it all that seriously, though it was quite interesting in its portrayal of life in East Berlin under the rule of the German Democratic Republic. I just find it hard to believe that the Stasi – essentially the secret police – had nothing better to do with their time than stalk a teenage boy whose main goals in life were to look cool and impress his girlfriend.
The characters weren’t too bad, on the whole. I wasn’t very impressed by Alex, or by his girlfriend Sophie, but the rest of the Ostermann family were more likeable, and I eventually grew quite fond of Alex’s sister Geli – an aspiring photographer – and his strict-party-line father, who (in my opinion) had the most interesting role in the book. The only other significant character was the Stasi officer Kohl who was assigned to follow Alex around, and I’m sad to say that no effort was made at all to make him seem like anything other than “Forgettable Bad Guy #x“, to such an extent that I often found it difficult to remember his name.
The book’s main problem lies with the writing, however, which is completely dry and without emotion. Much of the time, it read almost like a summary of events, rather than a narrative, and even though the actual plot was very dramatic, I was not even a tiny bit emotionally invested in any of it – with the notable exception of a couple of chapters near the end of the book, which were told from the perspective of Alex’s father, and were surprisingly tense. I also found Dowswell’s use of what I would refer to as “fan-German”* annoying and kind of distracting.
Overall, I’d say this book was mostly forgettable. I didn’t hate it, but I very much doubt I would ever recommend it to anyone.
*Fan-[language of your choice]: When authors randomly insert foreign words into sentences for no reason. I call it fan-[language] because it’s something I’ve mostly come across in fanfiction of anime series, where people mainly seem to use it in order to show off the fact that they’ve learnt a hadful of Japanese phrases… An example from this book, however:
She wondered what these buildings had seen. Who had lived in them? ‘Na und?’ – Who cares? – said Jan-Carl. But Geli did.
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