Schimmernder Dunst über Coby County
[Shimmering mist over Coby County]
Coby County is an enclave of culture and well-being in an undefined country in a not-too-distant future. This is how a town feels that was established by a cosmetics manufacturer and owes its initial success to a number of health farms. When someone lands up here they do not normally want to leave this social paradise, where neither gender nor skin-colour has any role, and where everyone leads secure and prosperous lives. Year after year, young, thrill-seeking, party-going tourists arrive to experience the famous Coby County spring. At one time, parents bringing their new-born babies home from the hospital were sent on their way with baskets of fruit. A wholefoods-paradise. Those thinking of Prenzlauer Berg are probably not far wrong, but still fall short of the mark.
Wim Enderssen belongs to the fruit basket generation: the 26 year-old first-person narrator of Randt’s novel, who, in one of Randt’s many ironic touches, is employed as a literary agent. He is an agent who sponsors exactly the kind of literature which has been critiqued in the real world over the last few years for its premature detachment and its lack of meaning. A literature which Randt himself successfully caricatures in the novel: ‘The texts of my teen-authors,’ Wim says, ‘are full of linguistic force and they show us older young people, what it feels like to be younger in today’s world: their school- and family-lives seem like an intoxicating frenzy to them, and no longer like a gently ironic romantic comedy.’
Wim is a restrained melancholic whose life has lacked the sort of balance which is ‘completely right’ for him. Wim disappears completely behind a lifestyle that is entirely based on outward appearance. Only rarely do we see a brief glimpse of the beginnings of a genuine emotion. The inseparability of the political and the private cynically becomes reality in Randt’s novel. The novel’s language itself is not only consumed by meaningless ‘wellness’ nonsense – it is its end-product. This is more radical than it seems at first sight. The direct speech printed in italics consists solely of set pieces which could have been taken from cheery little television shows. People continually utter sentences such as: ‘There is a place round the corner which does fantastic French toast.’ When Wim’s girlfriend, Carla, dumps him in a text message, she writes: ‘A new era is beginning for me with a boy called Dustin.’ And he replies: ‘I take note of your decision and am likewise now preparing myself for a new phase.’ Just don’t be uncool or even un-soft. This is what Hell must feel like.
The novel is an attempt to describe the identity of a generation which has no real identity. And that’s no small thing. Where Wim’s parents’ generation broke down, turning their personal development into a routine, as the mood took them, the children have turned into well-being zombies. To turn this process into literature in so elegant a manner as that achieved by Leif Randt is something more than Bret Easton Ellis without violence, or Michel Houellebecq without sex. Something threatening hovers over this novel from the outset, although this is possibly just a projection of a reader obsessed with counterpoints. And in fact things do happen in Coby County: the mayor is removed from office, a magnetic train comes off its rails, a few houses burn. This is apocalypse light, nothing more. Leif Randt permits us no escape from his sinister shower-gel-paradise, no subterfuge à la Truman Show and certainly no big bang. It is just all too consistent. And apart from anything else it is always extremely funny.
Translated by Sheridan Marshal
By Christoph Schröder
Christoph Schroeder is a freelance writer (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tagesspiegel, Die Zeit) based in Frankfurt am Main and is a lecturer in literary criticism at the university there.