Monday, February 01, 2010

book review - The Story of Mr Sommer - Patrick Suskind

“...I’d just been watching a man who all his life was on the run from death.”

Sometimes books should stand out against the conventional novel offering an experience that is different but just as valuable. The reason why this book first stood out in a shop that displays its books stacked up on a circular table was because of the illustration on the front and the quality of the paper.

This tale of growing up is interspersed with lovely illustrations that at first make you mistakenly think that this is a children’s book. Its audience is squarely adult with the tale of growing up in a village in Germany one that has its lighter moments but also has a darker side.

What you find as a reader going through the collection of anecdotes that are linked with the background presence of Mr Sommer is that you find yourself nodding with not necessarily the same exact memories but certainly the same feelings of inadequacy that the young author feels as he tried to deal with girls, bitter old piano teachers and the demands of his TV loathing parents.

The main focus of the story is the elusive and mysterious Mr Sommer who spends his time strolling round the countryside walking constantly inviting both childish ridicule as well as adult suspicion about what is his driving force. Is he claustrophobic or is he running away from a dull marriage? You don’t find out for a long time that he is running away from death in perhaps the only way he knows how a very literal escape.

Although there are a few anecdotes here with the family, bicycle and piano teacher being unwrapped next to the Sommer overarching story it is the sense of change as the main character grows up that unites them all. He is writing about a period when television is just emerging, cars are starting to crop up on the roads and the isolation of the little villages is coming to an end. In many senses Sommer is a character that is stuck in the past opting to walk and refusing the chance to get a lift in a car and spurning possessions.

The ending is a very sharp reminder that some events can shape a life forever and some of the moments of extreme tragedy we witness as children can imprint on our minds and stay there influencing thoughts about the world.

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