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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Clown (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) » User review

Dark, world-weary, edgy buffoonery at its best, a classic.

  • May 9, 2013
  • by
Rating:
+5
A grim post-war novel abounding in fatalism, doubt, sarcasm, loss and survival, Heinrich Boll's exploration is a true literary masterpiece that could make one almost wince in its no-holds-bar truth offering. The life of Hans Schneir, a down-on-his-luck, melancholy, incisive clown could represent any human life after surviving and living the day-to-day economic and emotional traumas hatched by war and the idiocy of policy that brings it about. What is normalcy after war? In most cases it is the love of a future wife and the co-creation of a family, for when one is in a war-and for survival sake-must sometimes end a human life, it is natural that the desire afterwards would be to help bring about life, as well as the beauty surrounding it. But for Hans Schneir, that is not the case, for he is encased in a cocoon of soulful hardness, an all encompassing iciness of mistrust, cynicism and destroyed ideals. Whereever he looks, he sees people manipulated by guilt, best exemplified by his mother, a former Nazi sympathizer who ultimately evolves into a kind of champagne activist while serving as president of the Executive Committee of the Societies for the Reconciliation of Racial Differences. He sees people who can not deal or cope or who are wounded with life, as is the case with his brother, Leo, who converts to Catholicism and then enters and is ultimately stashed in a seminary. All the time while German citizens flounder in their varied emotional states, Hans has two things which keep him stable, his unbending emotional hardness and his lover, Maria, who, as well, drifts away from him while gradually embracing the ideals of a Catholic neophyte named Zupfner. Hans Schneir's resolute closeness versus Maria's relentless openness casus the two to clash in many ways. Where he sees hypocracy and weakness, she sees Truth and possibility. Yet, to Hans, that is exactly what she is supposed to see and fall into, another trapping created by man to make a big power machine (the Church) even bigger. Thus he loses her, and she becomes the "first lady" of German Catholicism-Pg. 176. As all that Hans holds near and dear to him slowly drift away, the one thing that he clasps onto is his art, the talent of pantomime, whereby he immitates those in his environment: politicians, religious leaders, people who use other people and institutions merely in order to feel a sense of worth. But as he acts out the truths that he sees yet things that people do not wish to see, he even fails at his art, for who wants to see a sad clown? In the end, he struggles along, fighting to incorporate snippets of hard truth into his life, truth that nobody wants. Heinrich Boll is indeed the grand master of exploring the harsh truth of human behavior and how humanity uses a veneer of politics and God in order to not confront itself.
Dark, world-weary, edgy buffoonery at its best, a classic.

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More The Clown (Classic, 20th-Centu... reviews
review by . May 07, 2009
I made that word up, in the honorable German tradition of patching words together as if they thus existed as a single entity, a 'Ding an sich.' The three component words are: War Hypocrisy Accusation. If I've understood this furious book correctly, that's what it amounts to. I read it in German - Ansichten eines Clowns - in a yellowed old paperback that's been waiting for my attention for at least twenty years, but Böll's writing style is blunt and I'm sure it would be just as blunt in an English …
review by . March 17, 2006
A grim post-war novel abounding in fatalism, doubt, sarcasm, loss and survival, Heinrich Boll's exploration is a true literary masterpiece that could make one almost wince in its no-holds-bar truth offering. The life of Hans Schneir, a down-on-his-luck, melancholy, incisive clown could represent any human life after surviving and living the day-to-day economic and emotional traumas hatched by war and the idiocy of policy that brings it about. What is normalcy after war? In most cases it is the love …
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These mark the fifth and sixth Boll titles reprinted this year-impressive. First published in 1965, The Clown is typical Boll and is ripe with guilt and fear in its Nazi and post-Nazi Germany setting. Vennewitz's translation was dubbed "admirably smooth" (LJ 2/1/65). Katharina Blum (1975) was described by LJ's reviewer as a "powerful image of innocence betrayed, of measureless evil oozing quietly out from regulated, unimpeachable convention" (LJ 4/15/75). Two solid titles.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 014018726X
ISBN-13: 978-0140187267
Author: Heinrich Böll
Publisher: Penguin Classics

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