Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Translated by Katy Derbyshire, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)

IMG_3980Each chapter is a different voice telling a different version of the same desperate story: sex trade in a former East German city from 1989 to the present. It makes you ache at the loneliness and despair, while at the same time feeling horror at the choices these people have made with their lives. For surely becoming a prostitute, or a pimp, or a “guest” (a word preferable to the women than “customer”) is a choice, is it not?

How adept Clemens Meyer is at assuming the point of view of each person in his tale. I feel I am listening to the 30-something woman as she prepares to leave her warm flat in January for the unknown darkness awaiting her in a hotel room; I feel I am listening to the taxi driver who says to her, with a sweeping flourish of his arm, “Your car, madame.”

The irony, the pain, is piercing.

Yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel a little slimed while reading this. There is more than I want to dwell on about the darkest sides of human nature, the way sex is twisted into anything but love, the way that money and drugs and power are more important than a person’s heart.

Surely what Meyer writes about must be based in truth somewhere. Surely this is a world not entirely of his own creation, and who am I to judge? But 124 pages in feels like enough, at least for tonight. There is more than enough sorrow in these pages to last me until page 672.

What do you think? Should the subject matter of a book effect the way it is scored?

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
Winner of the English PEN Award
Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions on October 17, 2016
672 pages

9 thoughts on “Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Translated by Katy Derbyshire, Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list)”

  1. I know what you mean: I had the same experience when I was supposed to read The Emperor of Lies for a shadow jury. (
    Theoretically, a judge ought to read all the books in order to judge them fairly. After all, there’s serious money involved for the winner, not to mention fame…
    But a Shadow Jury is not *the* jury, and I think that if you know after a reasonable number of pages that there’s no way in the world you’d vote for it and you’d die in a ditch rather than acquiesce if the rest of the jury wanted it to win, well then, I think it’s fair enough to abandon it. Especially if you feel almost soiled by reading it – and some books can make you feel like that, and that sordid feeling can stay with you for a long, long time. (I still feel like that about The Story of O. I wish I’d never read that horrible, perverted book).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lisa, I think you understand exactly what I mean. “The sordid feeling…” is a perfect way to describe what Inwas experiencing two nights ago as I was reading this.

      Usually, I am unable (and unwilling) to read books that are Satanic. For example, I picked up Ill Will by Chaon which has been on best seller lists and getting all sorts of praise; it’s got satanic rituals and worship and all kinds of evil that have no place in my life or thoughts.

      Of course we live in a fallen world, filled with pain and darkness, but not only do I not choose to read about it, I can’t help but wonder how the content of a book can be extricated from the excellence of its writing. I can’t give a book a perfect 10 in writing of the subject matter is abhorrent to me; the subject matter is what makes the book!

      It’s like if I was judging a cake. If the frosting was perfect, a beautiful layer of roses and curlicues and detail, but the inside was mud, how could the cake be delicious?


    1. I will pick it up again, but for now I’ve laid it briefly aside in favor of Anna Karenina. Which, last I checked, isn’t on the MBIP list at all. 😉


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