Nasty, brutish, Grimm
BROTHER OF SLEEP by Robert Schneider, trs Shaun Whiteside Outlook Press (New York) pounds 9.99
Sunday 23 March 1997
Most of this is too ripe for English tastes, especially since the book is devoid of any irony. There are burnings and beatings, there are faeces and mud, there is animal torture and incestuous rape, and soaring above the cacophony in this pious Catholic village, where every nose is bulbous and every jaw undershot, are the screeches and scrannel note of the church organ which is, naturally, untuned. But it is the organ which provides Elias with his pathway to the sublime: he sneaks into the church at nights, teaches himself to play, and one day astounds the villainous peasantry with the majesty of his art. He is eventually lured to the city for an organists' extempore competition and there, in his only real public recital, he plays the chorale "Come, O Death, O Come, Sleep's Brother". Ovation follows ovation. Coins, hats, even, we learn, "diapers", are thrown in the air.
But the theme of the chorale has turned his wits. On the shaky theory that he has not loved Elsbeth enough, since whenever one falls asleep, one ceases, temporarily, to love, he forces himself to stay awake, to that end eating belladonna and deadly nightshade, and thus he dies, tied to a tree, covered in yet more faeces.
It is, as I said, all quite absurd. And yet ... the book possesses a kind of magnificence. Schneider has a fine declamatory style, confident and assertive - very German, really - and he plunges after his target like a bird-of-prey off a cliff. The characters who march in are given a hard, piquant edge and then abruptly shown the door when their services to the plot are over. Schneider's powers of description - of an afternoon when the "sun and moon faced each other, the moon a broken host, the sun a mother's cheek" or of "nature falling more brilliantly and capriciously upon the steep mountain passes" - have sheer poetic force. Like Elias himself on the wretched village organ, Schneider has taken the dank genre of folktale and wrung from it some splendid chords.
Distributed in the UK by Turnaround Publishing Services Ltd (0181 839 3000)
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate