Finally, here’s my last instalment for German Literature Month 2014. I’d actually finished Nullzeit (English translation: Decompression) in good time to write a review while German Lit Month was still on, but to be honest I really, really couldn’t be bothered. Writing a good bad review takes time (or hot passion at how bad a book was), I didn’t have it in me. I still don’t really, so if this review is somewhat less than thoughtful, please excuse me.
I honestly have no idea how this book got so many people to like it. It definitely wasn’t a hit with me. Nullzeit is a love-triangle story about an (almost) failed actress, Jola, who comes to a Spanish holiday island with her partner Theo, an (almost) failed writer, to prepare for what she thinks is her final shot at getting a good role (she doesn’t get it). The two of them are in the most toxic, co-dependent and, yes, ridiculous relationship ever. They’re either completely insane or completely unbelievable and unfortunately, Zeh can’t write them to be crazy enough to be credible, so they’re just annoying and stupid, especially Jola.
Jola and Theo are prepared to pay an insane amount of money to spend two weeks of exclusive training with diving instructor Sven, a failed (spotting a pattern yet?) lawyer who fled Germany because he couldn’t handle reality and is now living with his accidental girlfriend Antje. She showed up in his life one day and he didn’t have it in him to throw her out. Active participation in life doesn’t seem to be Sven’s forte. What does seem to be his forte is a stupid contempt for everyone around him, the Spaniards (Zeh unpacks every single stereotype she can think of, it’s revolting), the other foreigners on the island, the Germans, Antje, Theo, and even Jola.
The book alternates perspectives between Sven’s notes and Jola’s diary. These different perspectives are the only mildly interesting aspect of the book. In the beginning you don’t notice it, but as the storyline moves on differences between the two narratives begin to appear, until the two stories become completely irreconcilable. According to Jola, Sven begins a passionate love affair with her. According to Sven, Jola goes completely crazy for him, but he fends her off. Events unfold and of course there is a dramatic climax that could be read in two different ways. Because of the double perspective, you don’t know who’s telling the truth, Jola or Sven, but it didn’t matter because by the climax I was so annoyed with every single character in the book that I didn’t even care and was wishing they would all just shut up.
The writing alternates, too, but between being quite good (I think this was what kept me going. I was constantly waiting for this book to finally come around) and being absolutely cliché and tacky. The annoying stereotypes about the Spanish inhabitants of the island were just the icing on the cake. The whole storyline just seemed stilted and like she didn’t care about constructing a solid background, let alone a credible plot. Needless to say, not this year’s most recommended reading.