It begins this story like a dreamlike structure, a web in space and time – far away, deposited and off the roads. In a certain place, localizable, a small island in the middle of the river Havel: a beginning like a fairytale, at the beginning of which sometimes a queen appears. Like the young Queen Luise, who plays ball games with her children on the sun-drenched meadow of the beautiful island. It is the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and the fine company at the court of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. came in 1810 for the first time since the exile in Königsberg back to Potsdam and thus also on this remote island.
But as happens in the impetuosity of a game, one of the kids beats the leather ball into space, somewhere in the scrub and branches of the wild island forest. So the queen walks to bring the ball back, moves away from the crowd, penetrates deeper into the dark, into the undergrowth: “As if she had stepped through a curtain into another world, it was suddenly quiet around her except for the soft hum Insects. Surprised, she felt how her skin burned with the effort of the game and the sun. “Time-out: the other station. A narrative panning like a tracking shot, as at the beginning of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet”, when the gaze slides into the depths of another world. Yes, the island is charged, its nature, which, of course, is always one that is man-made, cherished, and ordered-whether in its wildness or impetuosity-depicts a certain state of development: English and French gardens each a thought system. So we say it right at the beginning: The Island of the Peacocks is a wonderful metaphor that Hettche chose to meander (though his name does not even fall in this book) between Kant’s expediency and a nature of deviance. In this context, the question arises, what actually nature and what this (for us) is divergent. So Queen Louise strikes herself in the thick undergrowth to find the off-beat leather ball of her children. From there, she gets to a very different kind of child.
But the narrative flow, the fairy-tale story of a queen in the snug undergrowth of the island, with the children playing merry games, is interrupted, the events stopped by a narrator. As if immobilized in a movie. It’s about one word, one single word that the young queen will pronounce when she meets a person in the undergrowth whom she has never seen before on this island, a word that will burn into the consciousness of the protagonist of this novel, like nothing else – not even her deep love: “Nothing on the peacock island is safe in its time. Every story starts long before it starts. The queen took a deep breath. Where was the ball? “(In fact – there are poets who are quite questionable and do not declare the inability to punctuation as a prosodic trait.)
The narration gets dazzling and changing in tone and style, because it begins this story from another epoch not only narrative, but as well as a stylish essay about the time may begin. Light-footed and witty in his examples and comments. Time and history are spun out of this beginning, which Hettche plays downright playfully and gracefully. But it does not stop at drama. For in the bushes the queen discovers a boy of perhaps four or five years. She asks the child, easily startled by his peculiar sight, who he is and what he wants here.
“But no sooner had it opened its mouth, the Queen, now seized with real disgust by what she heard, uttered a cry, only half-suppressed, and drew back. From the child’s body, inappropriate as a ventriloquist, came a very grown-up, very deep voice, which called as politely as horribly a name that the queen did not even notice. For now she also noticed what had disturbed the figure from the first sight. This broad, somehow sunken, animal nose. The mighty arched forehead, which made only think at first glance to a toddler. In addition, short, somehow mole-like hands, which commuted next to the squat body. The queen shuddered so much that, in order to silence this spirit, she threw herself in a word at which she horrified herself and clapped her hand over her mouth. “
The word is Monstrum. And the short-haired boy runs away with terrible howls and disappears into the underbrush while the queen turns away in disgust. A word spoken in the affect. Nevertheless or just because: A word that has an effect, and much more so than in Christian Friedrich Strakon in the head of his sister Maria Dorothea settles. Also short-lived and both standing in the reward of the Prussian King, the girl serves as a lock girl and the boy as a backup. Acquired by the King as a bizarre, as the kings of Europe and the Tsars dwarfs and all sorts of court folk held, and shipped straight after acquisition on the peacock island.
To be different from any other human being is the ten-year-old girl’s point of view right now when she is told this terrible encounter by Christian. Because so far she did not perceive herself in her position to the world as a foreign being. It may have grown differently, certainly, but not abnormally, scarcely mentioning a warning sign or a monster, but just as much a human being as the others, endowed with love, affection, joy, pain, and all the emotions and emotions, the people carry a variety of ways in itself. It is only this word “monstrum”, when two looks met so terribly in the undergrowth, and Marie is given this one word by her brother, that her sensibility for this world and also for how others cast their eyes upon her, sharpen her. This word engraves itself into the soul of the child, and it is that one word that indicates the experience of difference: to be there, but never ever to belong – if necessary acquired as a curiosity. But Gustav, the nephew of the gardener family of Ferdinand Fintelmann, who is employed on the island as a court gardener, sees Marie differently. Loving, with affection. And so, between the games of childhood and adolescence, an idiosyncratic bond develops between Christian, Maria and Gustav that is linked to attraction, fascination, alienation and corporeality. Until it breaks abruptly and ends in a terrible bloody act that will put all life on this isolated island in a very different light.
On the peacock island, the court maid Maria Dorothea Strakon spends her days, and this peculiar life of a man who was shaped by nature to a different degree, tells this novel in bold constructions and in a fabulous story. It is also the history of the 19th century, written from an island perspective, away from the big city of Berlin, and yet from there the travels go out into the wide world, which the novel implies in ciphers and fragments. An epoch for which the name Sattelzeit stands for, which changes so rapidly and produces changes, like no other epoch. A few decades later steam engines and industrial plants triumphed where the rattling mill still does its work and grinds the grain, where fairy tales and romanticizations endlessly poeticize the world, and realism froze the cold 60 years later Splendor of things. But all this change takes place on this peculiar island in a kind of deformation: not as an abbreviation of the great world out there, but rather in the sense of a fable, yes, of the alienations and Poetisierungen ago one could say, as a fairy tale. For even the fairy tale in its way interprets reality and provides symbolizations of the world.
At the same time “Peacock Island” tells the story of the formation of nature and one of the garden, which represents a natural image of mankind. But it is also such from the stranger and from the colonization of the Other, to the colonial exits of the European powers into the overseas and their raids. In this respect, this novel also touches on the logic of ethnological collections, and it is a journey around the world in 80 years, from 1800, the birth of Mary, to the year of her death, 1880. The Other as exotic excites, and so it was the rulers of Europe to amuse themselves, to put it on display, to demonstrate their own (supposed) superiority: objects and people as things, just as the rulers held giants or dwarfs at their court.
It irritates the other into flora and fauna: from the foreign peacocks to the exotic plants and animals, which were then settled on the island under the Prussian landscape architect and garden artist Peter Joseph Lenné, who, though himself small in growth, Maria whether her disheveled condition with profound disgust considered. As a discharge of nature. “Nature is not perfect. It is work to elicit the most beautiful things from her. Because only beauty is a welcome guest everywhere, “says Hettches Lenné. And the gardener Fintelmann, when Lenné arrived on this island, knew that it would soon no longer exist in this way of nature, as it grew on the peacock island. Mary will stay. Despite all the classifications and the absolutely artificial that comes with the contrived beauty of an English garden.
But what is the purpose of nature, if it has any? Nature brings forth strange, wondrous, rare and beautiful forms in its activities, changes and mutations. A beautiful animal like the peacocks on the island of the same name, but they perish in their beauty when they are torn by the animals. Only on the trees, which they reach with jumps and semi-helpless flights, they find safety in front of the fox, which hunts the peacocks. Useless then her beautiful game and her sensual plumage. The beautiful, the sublime, the cruel game of nature is always under the gaze of man. The purposes are twofold: as a scientific consideration: how and what it is that works there. And as a free play of the imagination, which then transforms into the art and produces there picturesque shapes and designs. The garden art stands between these two districts, it works according to the specifications of biology and thus also the natural sciences, and it circles at the same time a free play, which was made for the senses, their increase and overpowering, artfully in the form. Their perversion manifests itself in the appropriation of the other and in the fantasies of breeding. Hettches Lenné is already the fascist in spe, which did not release 100 years later, what did not fall into the delayed measure to the extermination.
Thomas Hettche builds the scenario of the individual and the world, of subject and nature in his sixth novel in a virtuoso manner, when the narrative perspective changes again and again between the gaze of the protagonist and the narrator as a knower. But not, as Sebastian Hammelehle insinuated at Spiegel-Online, to show off this protagonist and thus disgrace a second time, but by the complex and multi-layered of the protagonist is brought into the literary image. Yes, it is a dwarven story that goes a long way. Into the fairytale – fabulierend. (The comparisons to Grass’ “Tin Drum” are close, but seem to me only on the edge and on side roads purposeful.)
The fairy-tale nature of this novel, as the enchantment of a world, is always evident in individual passages. And in this book of stories and fairy tales people like Adelbert von Chamisso appear, and even his character, Peter Schlemihl, the man without shadows, with the seven league boots so far traveled around the world, materializes as a living figure and leads with the protagonist of this novel wonderful conversations: Maria Dorothea Strakon in an in-depth conversation with one of the loveliest and most sympathetic characters of this book. Basically next to her brother Christian and that glorious cook at the end of the novel, the only person who unreservedly recognizes Mary as Other and the Same. But the poetic construction of these dialogue scenes between Maria Dorothea Strakon and Peter Schlemihl, which Hettche sets so delicately, artistically and intensively, without it drifting into the stirring or the calculated kitsch of the ever-same formulation, is worth reading this novel.
At their first meeting Schlemihl, who is known in Berlin as a great silhouette, made a paper cut of Marie: “The picture was beautiful, not her, and that was good. Her anxiety eased, though she still could not keep herself from looking at the picture, and she suddenly remembered seeing silhouettes on a tea set in the castle, and that made her even happier. ” its form proves to be beautiful and if we can then look more closely, also in its shape. For the grace of a being lies in the folds and in the detail.
Hettche succeeded in his prose, which succeeds few: a lightness in the sound, which is still able to grasp the serious and sad, when a time passes. And in the seven-league boots of the term, to pick up the Schlemihl and paraphrase Hegel, the text moves through time. And he slides at the same time: gentle, playful, poetic or even poetic, if one associates with it the beautiful and skilfully set poetic formulation, sometimes then again in the history hard and sad in the coincidence. When an existence, a life through bad circumstances has abated, because the man you love, the dwarf brother, whom you loved just as much and even deeper, because he is as similar as no other person in the world, for life brought, so that any existence for Mary is only a waiting and observing. The prose of the world is inscribed with the melancholy of the gaze, who considers this world to be narrative and gives it a place in Scripture. Painting the Signatures of Time and Forgetting in Pictures. And like every fairy tale, a lost thing is saved. At the moment of prose lifted and placed in the time of literature. Hettche has succeeded in creating a graceful, a touching, a sensual, a highly intellectual, a deeply sad book, narrating between fairy tales and nineteenth-century realism without being eclectic in any way. And if you want it as a slogan, it is at the same time the Berlin novel, as we wish it for a long time.