Was vom Sommer übrig ist
[What remains of the summer]
And so it turns into a lonely summer. One of those summers when you start sweating at five in the morning. That’s when Louise starts her paper round of the neighbourhood, and then it’s on to the bakery where she works behind the counter. All hours of her day are accounted for to earn enough for driving lessons, and her parents are rarely at home either. So 17-year-old Louise also leads a life obscured from her parents’ attention. No wonder she wants to get her driving licence – it’s the prerequisite, the one ray of hope for escaping the confines of their small, hot, provincial town.
In her new young adults’ novel, Tamara Bach tells a story about “what remains of the summer”, and that turns out to be plenty after all. First, though, there’s the two girls’ mute disappointment at being abandoned by their parents. Loneliness is the novel’s key theme. Very delicately, very sadly and with great affection, Tamara Bach describes her characters’ state of mind, which no one can see, which they know how to hide, but which cuts them to the quick. And the reader wishes they could stand by these two proud, clever girls caught in an emotional vacuum between childhood and adulthood, as they find their way through a hot summer fit for the silver screen. As adults, we tend to forget that teenagers still have the heart of a child beating inside them.
Tamara Bach makes us sensitive to her protagonists, who are so similar despite their age difference that they could be two halves of the same person. But this is precisely what good literature can do: make us feel the heat and the lost feelings the heroines go though. And they don’t end up wallowing in this densely portrayed melancholy, because once they have fallen off the radar of parental concern there is a new realm of freedom to be discovered.
It is the younger girl, Jana, who recognises a kindred spirit in Louise, who talks to her cheekily out of the blue and even runs after her when the older girl tries to brush her off. The two of them become unexpected friends, tasting the wind of freedom that promises all the more thrills on balmy summer nights. That much can be revealed about a novel that builds up a subtle tension developed entirely out of the sensitive characters and the atmosphere – created through sparing details – of a boiling hot town, the nearby main road and the local lake. The reader instantly conjures up images of this sleepy summer-vacation world.
Tamara Bach writes with great pace, leaping from one idea to the next, her sentences coming thick and fast. A good prose recipe for telling the story of two injured heroines, who reveal more from the inside but whose thoughts can’t escape their inner prison as fully formed words. Girls who are often more silent observers than chattering teenagers drowning every emotion in a tide of inconsequential talk.
The road by which Jana and Louise learn to take their freedom is what makes the story, and it is a pleasure to accompany them. We always want to know how the plot goes on, with all its minor catastrophes behind the counter of the bakery or with false friends met by the lake. And a reward awaits Tamara Bach’s readers, because the girls’ characters mature visibly before our eyes and the summer, with what remains of it, inspires us and them with confidence, yet never drifts into the clichéd ruts of a happy ending.
By Thomas Linden, 19.04.2013
Thomas Linden is a journalist (Kölnische Rundschau, WWW.CHOICES.DE) specializing in the areas of literature, theater and film. He also curates exhibitions on photography and picture book illustration.