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Cordula Simon: Der Neubauer.

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Mr Neubauer.
Salzburg/Vienna: Residenz Verlag, 2018.
ISBN: 978-3-7017-1685-2.

Cordula Simon


The unnamed first-person narrator in Cordula Simon's fourth novel Mr Neubauer is angry, cynical and generally not very nice. Raised in an impoverished, dysfunctional family, he is also rhetorically gifted and never short of a good lie. He cons his way into a clique of well-heeled upper-class children, but his plan to reap the benefits of their prosperity proves somewhat difficult to implement. His well-off acquaintances are often short of funds themselves, or claim to be. So the narrator has to rely on odd jobs to keep both his own head above water and Tarán, his demanding girlfriend, sweet. When he unexpectedly loses his job as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket he is unable to pay the rent on his apartment and ends up on the street. He tries to get his 'friends' to take him in, using the pretext that he's being hunted by the Mafia. Not a good idea, he soon discovers.
Mr Neubauer the narrator's outsider perspective provides the dramaturgical friction. His inner detachment allows him to see past the façade of political correctness and posturing about changing the world. He recognises the social snobbery, hedonism and craving for admiration that lie behind it. Consequently, the narrator has no need to feel guilty. It's true that he's pretending to be something he's not – but everyone else is clearly doing the same.
Besides, he has no chance of ever really climbing the social ladder; he can never 'rightfully' belong to the upper-class clique. His attraction to the group is therefore permanently overshadowed by both his cynical, furious hatred of the others' privilege and his less apparent – and therefore all the more significant – hatred of his own disadvantaged, neglected status.
The narrator is not only more intelligent (or at least smarter) than these sons and daughters of the rich. He also has an unusual gift: alcohol turns him into a mind reader. The combination opens up a whole range of narrative possibilities. Even without the aid of telepathy the narrator finds very effective ways of kicking against the rich kids' double standards – until the big showdown comes.
Like all Cordula Simon's novels to date, Mr Neubauer is fast-paced and witty with surprising twists. Written with panache and in an unflamboyant style, the book is a page-turner that's hard to put down. Beyond its criticism of the socially better-off who hold forth about fairness and sustainability, the novel also has another asset: it is unabashedly peppered with banal aphorisms that, on closer examination, offer more food for thought than many a philosophical treatise. Thus, whenever he's asked how he is, the narrator trots out the motto: 'Bad people are always fine.' Which is true, isn't it?

Abridged version of the review by Gerald Lind, 19 February 2018.
English translation by Charlotte Collins.

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