Your House is on Fire, Your Children all gone / Stefan Kiesbye
London: Penguin, c2012.
I picked this up for the RIP VII Challenge, thinking it would be a creepy, chilling read for this time of year. It was that...actually, it was more than that -- I found it quite disturbing and it left me feeling faintly queasy.
The positives: the cover is extraordinary. So very chilling, in person even more so. The writing itself is very skillful; he has mastery of his subject. There is a comparison to the Brothers Grimm made on the back cover, and that's the comparison that I most sensed while reading. I'm talking the originals, the bloody, violent, incestuous, murderous originals. With a bit of that charming German tale Struwwelpeter thrown in as well. But I read it straight through, unable to look away.
The negatives: bad things happen. I mean really bad, twisted, frightening things. Perhaps I just don't have the stomach for horror, but I found parts of the tale truly revolting.There are four main characters, friends who grow up in the isolated German town of Hemmersmoor, which seems to be a place avoided by even near neighbours. It's characterized as an incestuous, troubled village. The era is just post-war, though it feels much more ancient in the village.
The story shifts from narrator to narrator, giving us a glimpse of the undercurrents in this village from many perspectives. It also introduces us to the interior world of some very messed up children. Does the evil and violence of this village come from supernatural elements, individual psychological perversion, or is it a reflection of something darker in German history as a whole? There are elements of each, but ultimately there is no conclusive finish. The book seems to drift to a close after a catalogue of grotesque events. In the copyright notices, it is revealed that parts of this book were previously published in shorter form, which sometimes shows.
For me personally, this was a disturbing read that I couldn't find much purpose in. There is no denouement, really, except for the return of the four characters, now adults, to the village, which seems to have become a nice, touristy small town in Germany. Only they hold its dark secrets. Also, the characters don't seem to be changed by the violence they've experienced, either as victims or perpetrators, so there is no sense to be made of all the events in the story. This was not a book I enjoyed, but on the other hand, I was spellbound by the writing enough to keep reading, hoping for some ray of light somewhere. Alas, none were to be found.