Novels are usually fictions. It tells a more or less thought-out story. However, what happens within this constructed fiction is quite real in the vast majority of literature, taken from the logic of the story and the plot. It is not fictive in itself and it is certainly not imagined, but it happens as described and consistent – even as fiction. The plot of a novel claims reality. Also in the mode of the fictional.
This differentiation is not unimportant for Ute Cohen’s novel Satan’s playing field . Especially if you look at what the subject of this book is. In order not to create great tension: It is about sexual abuse that a man commits to a girl. And this is the childhood story of author Ute Cohen. Unlike Nabokov’s Lolita , everything Cohen describes is more or less like that. But like Lolita , says Cohen, Satan’s playing field is also a novel. The title, of course, comes from a quote by Nabokov: “Loneliness is Satan’s playing field.” That is often true not only for the children, but possibly in general.
The protagonist Marie is twelve years old when she gets to know the approximately the same age Bauleitner sisters in the swimming pool of the village. Just now she has moved again, strange, new in the village, in precarious conditions the parents, from one apartment to the next and to the next village. A new environment again: Sabine is the naughty and offensive, Nicole the older and quieter. They will be blood sisters, in covenant for life, even if it’s only a short child’s summer – at that time in the country, in a Bavarian village. This is a tight-knit world of dogma and faith, the church is the town center, the town hall, the work, the prestige of this architect-father, Mr. Bauleitner, husband and maker:
“He had built the school, the bank, the morgue, and his white Mercedes belonged to the village like the church.”
This describes in a nutshell the situation and power structure of the village, somewhere in Bavaria, in the late 1970s. Bauleitner, the architect, with his fine house, his wife, consumed with alcohol and already desperate with her husband, the two spoiled children with the spoons of silver. The normal everyday life, Bavarian village elite and the Batzi, who lubricates the people, if it serves the business. You take what you can get. One is Amigo. Neoliberalism is just a buzzword for the corrupt character.
“Daddy!”, Call the children, as Bauleitner picks them up from the swimming pool, rushing to the dear dad, and also Marie is allowed to get an ice cream. There is security. There is somebody, there is one interested.
“In the morning, when the mother went to work and the father sat grumpily in his room, Marie fled to the Yellow House. Steaming cocoa on the kitchen table, a piano from which the flea whale hopped, made the discomfort disappear, the oppression for a fraction of a second. “
This approach to Marie is slow. The little gestures, a hug and an ice cream after swimming. A photo, together with the sisters in the bathtub and with the funny bath foam. And the funny melody of the 70s advertising comes to my mind, the funny children’s bathing, the funny children’s song sounds in the ear: Yes, “Planschi is great, Planschi is a stunner, with Planschi makes bathing fun”. There is nothing like the idyll promised to us. But what does a man do if a girl soon becomes a woman and if the tender bud does not bloom, but the first shoots show up? Marie senses that something is going on there.
“And now a picture!” He suddenly shouted. Like frightened chickens, the girls jumped out of the bathtub and tried to catch a towel. But he was back in the door frame with the camera in his hand. They hopped back into the tub, pressing their bellies to the edge and resting their chin on their supported hands. He moved back and forth, his right knee slightly bent and the lens turned to the left. His eye disappeared behind the black pipe, which moved more and more towards Marie. She wanted to submerge and yet stared as if spellbound in the black opening. “
This pull is suddenly there – as at high altitude on the edge of the cliff some are dragged into the abyss. There is something. We see the events through Marie’s eyes. But although the narration is written in the third person, we find in it the experienced speech, so that we can experience the inner perspective of the child.
But why is a child doing this? At the same time we as readers are beside it, not only Marie’s eyes, through which we register the approaching horror, but also the view of the site manager and our view: why this perspective, which distances itself from a first-person narrative, is well chosen. Because this distance allows for different possibilities of the view. What is exciting? There are builders subtle signs and touches, something is sparking, and it’s not that Marie finds this man just terrible. Or rather: she can not escape him. Therein lies the shock that this story causes. A story that becomes more fatal and inevitable from turn to turn. I’m almost inclined to say, “Girl, just run away, stay away from the Bauleitnerhaus! You are guilty yourself! “Of course this is nonsense, because that Marie is still a child, and it is not that simple. Children crave for attention, especially if they do not get it at home.
The trick of this perspective shift is that we look out of the eyes of the victim, but at the same time, as in the movie, stand by to pull the child back to the right path. So we see both: we see the pull that a man exercises like a builder, this mixture of power and eroticism, and we see the disgust that befell one, and with all the moral corsets we have in mind, no libertinism: no That’s not how it works, not with children, with girls who, while they want to be a woman, are not even teenagers. There is in the beginning this ambivalence in Marie: it slowly awakens the love, the desire for body. You can see it when Marie and her new friend Jutta, after the Bauleitner sisters are at boarding school, rummages through the bravo and gushes for the love monkeys Grease .
Marie dreams in the other world. The awakening desire for boys: to “walk” with them, as they said in the slang of that time. But at this age, love is just a vague idea, a kind of desired form – the culture industry serves the dreams of children with such films and magazines perfectly: when in girls like boys from a certain age a feeling stirs, but without a right term of it what this desire ultimately means. There is this yearning. And some men use that.
Cohen subtly describes this dependency insofar as the scenario is slowly building up. No values, no charges. All the scenes that Cohen portrays speak for themselves. And yet you already know about the first three pages as soon as Bauleitner shows up what this story will end. From the way this story is built, it is precisely this lack of distance that alienates the reader’s head. Fast, clear and straightforward. No long signs of a village home Idylls at Cohen, in which so quietly the horror creates a path: It does not exist, it is fixed, there is a man, the widespread interest, and at home with Marie, it is just annoying. So outbreak.
Marie is increasingly becoming Bauleitner’s object – not only metaphorically, but quite real, for example, by photographing her as a child in the sultry style of soft focus photographer David Hamilton:
“He stroked her an unruly strand – at least something on her body reared up – out of the face and fastened it under the cap. “Now, shut up!” He said. He put lipstick on her lips, painted them as if they did not belong to her. “
A new dress, a chain, driving and driving yourself. The approaches are taking more drastic forms.
“With his index finger he stroked her thigh neck and circled along the groin to the mound. She held her breath, daring not take her foot off the pedal or get her hands off the steering wheel. As she tried to squeeze her legs, his hand closed like an iron shell around her labia. The grip tightened. He clamped her labia in his bony collar and abruptly slipped his middle finger between them. “
Again and again you get caught up in life at this thought. “Why does not she withdraw?” Can not. It’s not working. Addiction makes things dramatic. And we already know that a giant member will eventually press into the tight sheath of a 12-year-old girl. Drastic, crude. Narrative impossibly close is built what happens in the room of the cottage and what a man controlled by his instinct does in the horizontal situation on a 12-year-old girl: boarding the foal. The first time:
He slipped on the condom and lay down on it. Her body disappeared under his chest, lost white on the sheet. “I’ve already stretched it. It can not break. There is a hole in the middle. I’ll go in there and you’ll stay calm, be quiet, “he whispered in her ear. Milk, sugar, yeast cubes. Spinach and fish fingers. Six times six … Slow! Pay attention! You have miscalculated A shelf is still missing! Once again! You are not there, she barked deep into her body. A scream, the body escaping his own throat, tore them from the saving number discipline. “Stop! Stop! I’m having a cramp! “He looked more impatient than compassionate at her. “Why the circus? Can not you keep still? “He shut his mouth and squeezed her thighs apart. “That’s good!” He said contentedly, though she was still lurking beneath him, louder than before. Undeterred, he continued, moving faster. Three-four time, she thought. The piano teacher reprimanded, slapped her fingers. “
Cohen builds this arc narrative successfully. Little by little, the mosaic assembles, the parts join together. But not for the better.
The turning point in this novel, in the last third, is undramatic: not a showdown, but a subtle form of humiliation that should not be betrayed here. Twice. Marie does not indicate Bauleitner, that would be, so it is in the thinking of the child futile. And maybe this is the right thing to do away with and the parental disclosures in this context. Nobody would believe her. Site supervisors would find ways and means to pull the opinion on his side. A difficult situation – which is a lot of perfidy. And pointedly, the social conflicts of the period of the 1970s, especially the view of sexual abuse, seem to be pointed out.
A single person, in the school of drawing teachers, seems to notice something when Marie delivers these deeply disturbing pictures, but he does not go to the bottom of the matter in the end, only shakes his head doubtfully. Something works there, but in the end has no consequence. I found this school scene in the novel almost the most painful episode of the novel, almost as horrible as the multiple descriptions of abuse: when salvation is approaching, yet no one can help. Cohen never blows up such scenes overdramatically, but proceeds according to the principle “show, do not tell”. In the stream of storytelling and the way it is narrated, awareness quickly sets in.
How does this drama end? In a sort of Ascension and apotheosis. Nightmare scraps mingle with shreds of reality. Fear is the creator of a gloomy dream. Hard to say whether the end of Marie’s broken imagination is due: a traumatized child, or whether it was a clear-realistic calculus. Staggering. Between the triumph that ended with their own on-board a nightmare and the fear of losing the hated man and thus to lose the meaning that gave her, Marie, this hated man. The end of this book, at least, is furiously dramatic. To portray horrible things in beautiful language. But should not be told what happens there, you have to read it yourself and understand what that means.
Ute Cohen wrote an oppressive and still sober book in the language, only a few metaphors that provide images for the lust of an adult adult. A black panther or a multi-headed hydra emerge, but otherwise it remains in the description, which is indeed described with emphasis, but which is nevertheless realistic and sober on the whole. That’s what makes this story all the more appalling.
Anyone who reads such novels about sexual abuse of children also gets another look at Nabokov’s novel Lolita . But for that very reason, because of the drastic nature of the subject and the way of telling it, and therefore because of the style, Lolita is also a successful book. Because here we read the monstrous thing from the optician’s point of view: a lustful rush, maybe even just a frenzy of the imagination into which that Humbert Humbert gets entangled. And that just makes it a lot more monstrous – especially if you read as a slide for Cohen’s novel. But is what is narrated in Lolita real, does what is narrated by the narrator happen within the fiction, or does a fiction work here with imaginations of a first-person narrator named Humbert Humbert? While reading Lolita, I was never quite sure if that was not the excesses of a lunatic in the asylum behind his front wall jail. Annoying and disturbing anyway. But there is something very real. Literature is the place to banish this story and at the same time reveal the whole drama.
What Ute Cohen writes, however, is neither fiction nor imagined, but frighteningly real. The aesthetic fictionalism in the literature sometimes corresponds to an empirical realism. This tendency is not new, since the Enlightenment: the biographical writing. Despite all the horrors that Satan’s field of play holds in passing, we should read this book as a piece of literature. Regardless of whether Cohen was freed up with this book. As a human being, anyway, she possesses that admirable sovereignty that is not given to anyone after such an act: not to remain a victim, but to become the actor of one’s own life. Here, too, we see that literature can show something that is both true and at the same time cruel – no matter if it corresponds to a reference in the real world or not. Cruel not because Cohen gives us splatter scenes, but because the story is terrible in itself. The sobriety in the narrative tone stands out for the contrast.
Ute Cohen is a strong woman and she is a happy woman. That’s how I got to know her, so you can experience her in an interview that Holger Fuß recently had with her in the Berliner Zeitung . From this strength – and here we are at the very point where we should leave the level of literary fiction – it can give courage to those who have done so. Those women and girls who were the victims of such an offender. Ute Cohen shows that you do not have to be a victim, that there are other ways. But you can only show that, you can not recommend it to anyone, you can not advise or ostracize anyone. Suffering is individual, even if such violence happens to many and is not an isolated case. Satan’s playing field shows one of many variants of such violence and how people use other people. In the mode of fiction.