Category: Fiction

Mareike Krügel
Bleib wo Du bist
[Stay where you are]

Novel

Review

Psychotherapists, popularly known as shrinks, specialize in the difficult business of empathizing with others, while maintaining the distance of a professional observer. Writers (or filmmakers) have the task of trying to understand psychotherapists, who as we know, are only human. And ever since Woody Allen, we know that "therapy" is a subject that can be handled with humor, even if it often deals with human tragedies.

A certain amount of life experience, one might think, is necessary for creating a literary work about the subject, and having a dry Anglo-Saxon sense of humor is definitely a plus. Mareike Krügel (b. 1977), who has previously published two novels, proves that a German author, and a relatively young one at that, is able to write an entertaining story with depth about psychotherapists.

The novel Bleib wo Du bist [Stay Where You Are] opens with a scene from a conference buffet that everyone, not just those familiar with the professional world of psychology, can relate to, and this creates an irresistible draw: “Even from far away, it would be hard to ignore the silver platters on the buffet table piled high with sliced and diced chunks of ham. The whole room is bathed in a blubbery yellow, the low-hung Tiffany lamps are on, even though it isn’t dark outside. Carved into a wooden sign above the door are the words Große Laugenspitze, a burgundy-colored carpet covers the floor, dark brown paneling on the walls. For a brief moment, Matthias Harms feels as though he’d stepped into a nightmare.”

Matthias Harms – it’s no coincidence his last name denotes heartache and worry – is a conscientious representative of a profession that need not complain nowadays about unemployment. Patients with neurotic compulsions find their way into his practice, bringing him a good income and case histories good enough to put on stage, but his nerves are strained, however subliminally, especially since he is subject to his own pastiche of obsessive compulsive symptoms. This becomes increasingly obvious, the longer Krügel shows her hero participating in a normal conference for therapists, wandering around, or rather straying aimlessly, in beautiful South Tyrol. In a series of seemingly unspectacular events and encounters, Harms, a man from Lübeck in his early fifties, is confronted with repressed memories and latent conflicts, and what begins as a walk with symptoms of a mild disorientation gradually transforms into a hair-raising mountain trek full of external and internal moments of danger, until in the end nothing is as it once was.

Mareike Krügel describes the psychological drama of a person trained to help others in crisis, yet Harms has allowed his clients’ problems to distract him for far too long from his own. The author effortlessly alternates between the past and present with empathy and keen skills of observation. The greatest strength of this carefully crafted little novel can be seen in the comic passages: The author’s light hand provides a healing insight into a milieu that shapes our society, and in her treatment of the special features of a déformation professionelle, Krügel illuminates a topic that requires as much understanding as those seeking a cure would expect from their therapist.
Kristina Maidt-Zinke

By Kristina Maidt-Zinke, 01.07.2011

​Kristina Maidt-Zinke is a literary and music critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and writes reviews for Die Zeit.

Translated by Zaia Alexander