Mittelstadtrauschen is the first novel by Margarita Kinstner. The title translates approximately to “Medium City Static.”
Finished on: 3.8.2016
Marie meets Jakob by chance and the two of them hit it off, despite the fact that Jakob actually has a girlfriend, Sonja and Marie is still very much hung up on her ex, Joe who recently killed himself with a jump into the Danube. Also struggling with Joe’s suicide is his best friend Gery who happens to meet Sonja after Jakob left her. Gery delivers Meals on Wheels and meets Hedi through his job, Jakob’s grandmother and finds an emotional connection with her that he can’t seem to find anywhere else. And everything seems to come back to Joe who has planned something big before his death, something that will impact the lives of those left behind.
Mittelstadtrauschen starts off promising enough, but then doesn’t really keep those promises. I found myself increasingly disbelieving of the story and the characters, and I started hurrying through it just so that I’d have it finished.
I like episodic structures and narratives that are woven together from several strands. But it’s a structure that is really hard to get right. With Mittelstadtrauschen, I thought that the weave was a little too tight, stretching the narrative thread very thin in a few places. And before I overstretch that metaphor, what I mean is that there were too many coincidences in place to make sure that really everybody is connected very tightly to the core plot. Sometimes a looser fit would have worked better, instead of me starting to snort at those coincidences.
About the same level of annoying was the fact that there was something on every second page to make sure that the reader know that this book is set in Vienna. I mean, I love Vienna and I love reading books that are set here, but this was the equivalent of an exciting puppy jumping in your face every two seconds. The puppy is cute and the jumping itself wouldn’t be that bad if it didn’t happen without stop. I don’t need a namechecked street or landmark all the time to remember where the story is at. Especially since there are many other things that will mark it as a Viennese story.
And while I’m at things that annoyed me, I really hated how the book treated Sonja. I just got the feeling that the book hated her for being a needy, uptight woman who is looking for a relationship. And while I don’t know if I would have liked Sonja if I met her in real life, I thought she deserved better characterization than that. The beauty of books is that you can explore various characters and discover their good sides as well as their bad and see the world through their eyes. Sonja does not get that courtesy.
Taken on their own, all of these things aren’t big flaws and Kinstner’s language is certainly interesting enough to keep you engaged. But taken together and combined with a reveal at the end that to me didn’t read as romantic – as I think it was intended to read – but extremely creepy, and Mittelstadtrauschen became a book that I just couldn’t really enjoy, as much as I wanted it to. Though I could see it happen if my qualms with it don’t happen to annoy you.
Summarizing: Didn’t work for me but maybe you’re luckier?