Well, the better title would be "stuck". In Greg Baxter's novel Munich Airport, the narrator and his father find themselves stuck at the eponymous airport at the tail end of a macabre mission: identifying and repatriating the starved body of their anorexic sister and daughter respectively.
In my anthology of writing about or set in Germany, Beyond the Enchanted Forest, the last chapter documented the resurgence of creative literature set in Germany due to the bustling millennial Berlin émigré scene. Greg Baxter, an American who has swapped Dublin for Berlin, has produced a novel which is an example of how some of the most creative and exciting English-language fiction is currently happening outside of English-speaking countries - and don't be fooled by the title, this book is not about Munich Airport.
The airport is simply the bare, stripped-down, utilitarian backdrop against which Baxter's narrator examines his life in a whole lot of other places: the Deep South, then London, and most recently, a few weeks in Berlin; the Rhineland and the Ardennes also put in brief cameos. In the framework of the book, Berlin appears as a kind of refuge for misfits and sufferers of physical-psychological trauma: the narrator's anorexic sister, a deeply scarred one-night stand, and an Afghanistan veteran with a near-estranged husband. Of all of the places depicted (including the sterile airport, amorally carnivorous London, and the smelly swamps of the Gulf of Mexico), it is in fact the one that seems least charming and least human - and the most dangerous.
Baxter's novel is worth reading for these evocations of place alone; and although the taut style, lack of genuine action, and unusual punctuation will not be to everyone's taste, the book's mesmeric horror can end up unfolding a kind of hypnosis over readers willing to dive in - indeed, with no division into chapters and expert pacing, this state is - once induced - hard to shake off.
Friday, 3 January 2014
One of the first texts I came across in my search for other English speakers who had got “Lost in Deutschland” and written about it was Coryate’s Crudities, the account of one Thomas Coryate, who set out from England in 1608 to walk to Venice, returning via Germany. Coryate’s record of his travels is indeed “crude” in its sense of meaning “raw, uncooked”, inasmuch as it is half-baked: despite setting out to write about his journey, Coryate displays at almost every turn an infuriating lack of focus and gets lost in often pointless detail, forgetting the overall dramaturgy of his really quite remarkable undertaking; despite the work’s historic interest, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
I’d imagine Tim Moore would agree. After all, he knows Coryate better than most, having set out in the early 2000s to retrace his route, original copy of the Crudities in hand. He too admits that Coryate is not an easy read, and yet over the course of his modern homage to one of the first ever travel writers, Moore grows strangely fond of this (during his lifetime) much maligned figure. Maybe because that’s because, as Moore admits, he shares many a characteristic with Coryate: he admits to their common predisposition to avarice, which drove Coryate to cover much of the journey on foot, stealing food as he went, and lead to Moore drive it in a clapped out Rolls Royce, pocketing as much toothpaste and shower-gel as possible in scuzzy hotels.
Moore’s style isn’t for everyone: with Coryate he shares a predilection for long sentences and diversions. The saving grace is that these diversions are much funnier and more self-aware than those of the really rather pompous Coryate, and that he has an exceptionally sharp eye for detail when observing foreign lands.
In short, if I’d have known about this when publishing Germany: Beyond the Enchanted Forest – A Literary Anthology last year, then I’d definitely have included it, both as a counterfoil to Coryate’s original and either as a part of either the last chapter showing a newly comic approach to writing about Germany, or as part of the very last chapter on creativity in the matter. After all, you have to be uniquely creative to come up with the idea of doing a modern Grand Tour, finding out about Coryate, and then opting to retrace his footsteps in a mauve velvet suit and a car so monumentally unsafe that it really shouldn’t be on the road – especially not a German autobahn.
Continental Drifter: Taking the Low Road withthe First Grand Tourist, Tim Moore, 2001 Abacus (London)