Category: Fiction

Lara Schützsack
Und auch so bitterkalt
[So so cold]

Novel

Review

​There have lately been increasing numbers of young adult works dealing with the themes of anorexia and bulimia. But Lara Schützsack’s book So so cold is both more unflinching and more thorough than anything we have seen so far, charting one girl’s existential struggle in clear, poetic language that is rich in imagery.

The best way to get inside sixteen-year-old Lucinda’s world – a world far-removed from people’s usual everyday lives – is by listening to her favourite music. Not just at the end of the story, where fifteen song titles are connected together into an epilogue, but as a way of tuning oneself in to this extraordinary novel from the outset. Even after listening to Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’, or ‘Girl’ by the Beatles, or ‘My Body is a Cage’ by Arcade Fire and at least partly understanding their messages, Lucinda’s cocoon-like life, narrated from the point of view of her slightly younger sister, remains an enigma. Some clues are provided by the magical images with which Lara Schützsack describes this young woman’s world. Perhaps her body is a cage whose limits have long been transcended by her spirit.

The author is by no means conccerned to create a story about an anorexic girl that will have therapeutic value – the term ‘anorexic’ does not even appear in the book. Of course Lara Schützsack recounts the family’s desire for normality, but at the same time she describes the helplessness and lack of understanding felt by the girl’s father, mother, sister and other people who have anything to do with her. The author also observes, via her narrator, the painful self-evidence of the vicious circle to which the people involved belong. They are completely unable to find a way out which would enable them to start the story again from the beginning, and in more auspicious circumstances.

Lucinda, sensitised to every nuance of her unconventional world, has long burnt all the bridges that might have offered her a way back into normal life – a life that only ever seems fake to her. Lucinda and her sister’s favourite meeting place provides a fitting metaphor for her decision: a crumbling bridge on the edge of town. This is where the pair of them sneak off to during the warm, clear nights. They lie down at the mid-point of the bridge where the brickwork is crumbling away and look down into the dark, threatening abyss, or else gaze up at the starry night sky. All around them there is rustling and chirping and the leaves quiver in the wind.

The girls are not afraid. On the contrary: with every facet of their bodies and souls they feel the fascination of the unknown, the unusual and the undiscovered – the appeal of things which ordinary people in ordinary lives have long ago repressed or forgotten. ‘Grown-ups are always afraid,’ Lucinda says. ‘Everything scares them, The stars above all. They can’t understand how something so bright and beautiful can be light years away at the same time. Ideally they’d like to shoot at the sky until the brightest star falls down and burns out on the ground at the pinnacle of its brightness.’

Lucinda sees herself as one such star. She is a beautiful young woman who never fails to captivate those around her, including her younger sister who hangs on her every word and watches Lucinda’s dealings with boys with fascination. But after some puzzling goings on in the cellar of the family’s old house, Lucinda’s young male admirers seem to withdraw. With the exception of a new boy from the area, who seems to have a very special spiritual connection with her – until something dreadful happens.

Lucinda is convinced that she is far removed from everyday humiliations. The reader should pay particular attention to moments like those on the bridge, where the younger sister listens enthralled to her big sister’s words. It is in such moments that Lucinda’s distance from any kind of normal life becomes clear. For her there is only the abyss or the stars. Perhaps there is some small consolation in both of these choices. This is how it might have been for Janis Joplin, whose longings and lust for life were too great for this small life. We know how the story ended. 
Siggi Seuß

By Siggi Seuß, 22.10.2014

​Siggi Seuß, freelance journalist, radio script writer and translator, has been writing reviews of books for children and young people for many years.

Translated by Sheridan Marshal