Der aufblasbare Kaiser is the first novel by Michael Ziegelwagner. (It hasn’t been translated afaik, but the title literally means The Inflatable Emperor.)
Finished on: 22.5.2016
Vera’s life isn’t quite as she wants it to be. After a slip and fall in the bathtub that leads almost disappointingly to just a hurt foot, she finds a small sign advertising the meetings of the Legitimistic Club and almost without meaning to, she goes there. The Legitimistic Club is made up of a handful of men, most older, who are in favor of reinstating the monarchy in Austria with the ageing Otto Habsburg as the Emperor. Vera, who doesn’t think of herself as conservative, has never even thought about the possibility, but finds herself drawn to the club and its slightly dusty ways.
Der aufblasbare Kaiser is one of the most relaxed books I ever read, making it the perfect book to lean back with after a busy day. In enjoyed it a lot, but every once in a while a little more tension wouldn’t have hurt.
An aimless, almost depressed young woman. A bunch of weird, reactionary old men. An upcoming hen night. Aiming for the monarchy again. These are weird ingredients for a book. Imagine Chuck Palahniuk writing a novel with them and it would probably become something like Fight Club. And then imagine the absolute opposite of that and you’ll have what Ziegelwagner has written. He tells his story with a slight sardonic smile and with a bit of distance to all of his characters. It makes the reading easy and pleasant like an old sweater. But much like that same sweater – that you love and that you turn to when you need comforting – there’s little excitement to be had in ironic distance.
That I couldn’t just brush off that lack of excitement and tension became clear to me when I realized that I couldn’t really tell the members of the Legitimistic Club apart and that I didn’t much care about it and worse, that one of the member’s antisemitism had me shrugging at best instead of getting angry. In fact, the book seems to judge the women with whom Vera is supposed to organize a hen party much more than the reactionary royalists. Because those women, they’re silly and like TV shows. This might simply be a reflection of Vera’s point of view. Since they are the only women, apart from Vera, who get a little more inner life (Vera’s sister remains on the edge of the book), that was a little jarring though. But in the end it does get a whole lot better, so even that couldn’t take away from the relaxed flow of the book. Much like Vera I drifted through the story, but unlike her I never reached any conclusion.
But the drifting itself was extremely pleasant and at times outright funny. My personal highlight was the speech of a politician regarding parking space in the first district of Vienna. The Legitimistic Club – acting on Vera’s impulse – decides to actually take the initiative and use that speech to push their agenda publicly. The resulting encounter is hilarious. I also very much love the opening of the book where Vera falls in the bathtub and her inner monologue is all about how she will relish her stay in the hospital: it would provide a legitimate reason why she can’t possibly do anything and all of the sympathy she could wish from the people around her. A little bit of pain can be endured for that. I’m not gonna lie, I have thought about that myself every once in a while.
Altogether Der aufblasbare Kaiser is a really good and entertaining read with a couple of drawbacks that are to be expected in a any book, especially a first novel. I’m looking forward to see what Ziegelwagner comes up with next.
Summarizing: Kick back, relax and enjoy.