In her solitude, with memories that never die
THIS promising debut novel from Melbourne author Melanie Joosten, a graduate of university creative writing and editing courses, begins with the familiar idea of girl meets boy in an exotic locale, in this case the bohemian hub of contemporary Berlin. Clare is a young Australian photogra- pher who has come to Europe, having been commissioned to do a book on buildings from the communist era. She meets Andi, a German English teacher, and after a second serendipitous meeting they end up in bed.
But just as you are beginning to think same old, same old — arty girl with groovy job goes to cool city and shags a funky local — the story morphs into something rather more interesting.
The title gives a hint but it would be a shame to give any more away here since the transition is deft, and in a book light on plot the reader may need the surprise of this shift to maintain narrative momentum.
Suffice it to say that the strength of this novel is not so much what happens (or indeed doesn’t happen), it’s the way the experience is filtered through its protagonist. In its beginnings, Clare seems to be afflicted with a peculiar kind of generation-Y selfconscious quirkiness. However, she soon emerges as a character of considerable interest, damaged yet capable of fresh insights about the world and herself at the moment she is forced to rely on her inner resources. While I suspect that as a middleaged man I am not the target market for The Berlin Syndrome, I enjoyed reading it because Joosten’s skilful construction of Clare suc- cessfully drew me through her eyes.
In an age dominated by the prevalence of external stimuli, Joosten chooses to put Clare through an opposite experience, where her world is radically reduced. Clare is frequently at a loss for things to do, and we learn most about her through her thoughts and reflections in the large slabs of solitude she endures. Under less skilful hands, this might have been turgid but Joosten pulls it off with a sure touch and lucid prose that wears its philosophical inclinations with admirable lightness.
While Clare is the strength of the novel, its