Dark Satellites by Clemens Meyers
Translated by Katy Derbyshire

On to my second new read for our Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight and it’s back to blue cover fiction; this time in the form of a rather wonderful translated collection of short works by Clemens Meyers. Meyers is an author new to me; born in Germany, he held a variety of jobs before turning to writing, and his most recent novel “Bricks and Mortar” has been longlisted, shortlisted and won a number of prizes. I’ve seen that novel described as “hallucinatory” and “modernist” and I think those are words that could definitely be applied to “Dark Satellites”.

Set in contemporary Germany, Meyers’ stories are loosely gathered into three sections, each with a short, fragmentary opening piece. His works tell the tales of maginalised characters; from a lonely train cleaner making friends with a hairdresser, through a man unable to cope with his house being burgled to the casual friendship between a retired jockey and a railway company clerk, these are people who live on the margins. This is a Germany reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but there are echoes of the past on both sides of the Wall, and the new world which has been built is not necessarily a good place for all. The settings are often a kind of edgeland, peripheral to any new centre, and many of the protagonists are struggling to make sense of the changes which have taken place around them and our modern multi-cultural world.

They came from a realm of shadows that had formed over decades in the rear yards of the Coal Quarter, small factories with round, soot-blackened chimneys where pigeons perched when no smoke rose from the outlets, workshops, coal merchants, dilapidated buildings with small birch forests growing on their roofs, empty, decaying factories, passageways to the road and to the light, but the light outside was murky too; shadows lay over these yards where I’d met them many years ago, and as I returned to them now the sun was shining, and nothing fitted together any more.

The writing in these stories is extraordinary; Meyers favours long sinuous sentences, sometimes a paragraph in length, which are often quite beautiful and almost have a hypnotic effect while you’re reading. Time is a fluid concept in Meyers’ stories and the narratives slip back and forth between past and present, different settings and varying points of the lives of his protagonists. This fluidity adds to the sense of dislocation his characters are experiencing and the collection title is apt; these characters are satellites of the modern world, rather than direct participants.

Clemens Meyers by Enno Seifried via Wikimedia Commons

I can see why the description “hallucinatory” was used for Meyers’ writing, as you *do* have to pay attention while the narrative regularly shifts time and place, blurring any chronological continuity. Nevertheless, that attention will bring great rewards as these are stories that most definitely deserve the word haunting – the moving characters and their lives stay with you, and the world which Meyers conjures is at times like dream-like and always vivid.

So “Dark Satellites” is another wonderful release from Fitzcarraldo which really does live up to their ethos of focusing on “ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing”. Meyers’ book is all of those things, peopled with memorable characters, and I highly recommend it!