A Dark Tale of Vengeance #durrenmattday #GermanLitMonth


As part of November’s German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzy and Caroline, today has been declared “Durrenmatt Day”! The plan, I believe, is to focus on writings by the author Friedrich Durrenmatt who’s known for his dark thrillers. I have an omnibus collection of his works but alas have run out of reading this month; so I thought instead I would share my thoughts on one of his titles which I read back in 2017 for our 1951 ClubThe Quarry.

As I said at the time, the book “is billed as a Kafkaesque detective story and there’s certainly nothing straightforward about it. The book is set in 1948 and features Commissioner Barlach (who was an Inspector in a previous Durrenmatt title), a man at the point of death; fighting cancer, he is recovering from a heart attack when he notices that his friend and physician Hungertobel is shocked by a photo in a copy of Life which Barlach is reading. The photo is a horrific one, of a doctor operating on a patient in a concentration camp with no anaesthetic, and after much probing Barlach finds out that Hungertobel thinks he recognises the man. However, the doctor in the picture is apparently dead and Hungertobel’s acquaintance is the respected medic Emmenberger who runs an exclusive private clinic in Zürich.

It seems impossible that the two men are the same, but Barlach cannot leave his suspicion alone. Calling on his contacts, he learns more about the Nazi doctor Nehle from a mysterious Jewish survivor of the camps known only as Gulliver. Barlach arranges for Hungertobel to have him transferred to the clinic so that he can track down the doctor and find out the truth; but he soon discovers that he may have taken on more than he can handle and met his match.

…one should start sweeping and scrubbing if one discovers dirty spots; but to tear the whole house down right away is senseless and ignorant. For it is difficult to build a new house in this poor hurt world. It takes more than a generation, and when it is finally built, it won’t be better than the old one. It’s important that one can tell the truth and that one can fight for it – without landing in jail.

“The Quarry” is a stark book, and it very much reflects the time it is set in and the time it was published. The war and its effects are still fresh in people’s minds, and the horrific experiences undergone by Gulliver have left physical and mental scars which will not easily heal. The sense of post-War unease reminded me a little of the atmosphere portrayed in “The Lost Europeans“, and it does seem that many who were culpable for their behaviour managed to slip through the net and carry on their lives as it nothing had happened. When Barlach finally encounters Emmenberger the man’s influence over his subordinates is chilling; he’s seen as pure evil and there seems no escape for our detective. Gulliver has had his chance to state his point of view, and now Emmenberger has his, and it really doesn’t make pleasant reading.

I read “The Quarry” almost in one sitting as it was absolutely compelling, and knowing this was the only other Barlach book I couldn’t be sure of the outcome. The end is satisfying (though perhaps in retrospect not entirely unexpected) and the story lingers in the mind for a long time after finishing it. This is a brutal book in some places, but a necessary one – nearly 50 years on from its publication, it reminds us of unspeakable events which we really must make sure are not repeated.”


I obviously thought highly of the book at the time, and I’ve read other titles by the author pre-blog; so this is a useful reminder that some of my omnibus edition is still unread! As I said at the time, the book doesn’t credit the translator, which is very frustrating… Nevertheless, a memorable read from a powerful author, and deserving of his day during this German Literature Reading Month!

What happens when Charity Shops get in new stock…


…. fortunately the damage is not too bad!

I *have* been very restrained the last few weekends, as I’m being strict with myself and only buying books I’m sure I want to read, and relatively soon! I confess that there might have been a few review copies sneaking into the Ramblings recently, but I can’t be held responsible for that. However, the local charity shops have definitely been replenishing their shelves, and I stumbled across these beauties at the weekend:

newbies march 2016

I’d rather wanted to read Eco’s “The Prague Cemetery” when it came out and never got round to it; but his recent passing reminded me of this, so I grabbed this copy for £1.75 when I saw it in the Samaritans.

“The Joke” is an upgrade – I have a tatty King Penguin which isn’t very nice, and I also wanted to check I have the authorised translation, as apparently there have been several. Plus I like Faber volumes and this one was only 95p!

And the Durrenmatt was a must-have when I spotted it in the Oxfam! A lovely Picador collection containing 5 works – The Judge and his Hangman, The Quarry, The Pledge, A Dangerous Game and Once a Greek – I just couldn’t ignore it. I’ve read “Judge…” before (I think I have a green Penguin of it knocking about); but having read reviews by Jacqui and Marina Sofia of its follow-up, I was keen to read more. Interestingly, they have the title translated as “Suspicion”, whereas this volume renders it as “The Quarry” – but I’m sure it’s the same story as the opening pages have the same action they describe. Interestingly, considering Sarah’s post here about the cost of some books in charity shops, this one was £4 – more than I would normally pay, but the condition was pretty good and I’ve never seen it before.

So – time to donate a few more books to make some space! 🙂

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