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Writer seems unsure if book is a thriller or a coming-of-age novel

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IN a deceptive start to this novel, translated from German, there is beautiful lyrical writing where young Hans Stickler lives idyllicall­y in a forest in Lower Saxony with his parents. However, the narrative takes a sudden and more dramatic turn, after their tragic deaths when Hans is15. From here on in the writing becomes rather stilted as if Wurger cannot make up his mind whether he is attempting a coming-of-age novel or a contempora­ry thriller.

Hans is sent by his Englishres­iding aunt Alex to a Catholic boarding school. There, the timid boy is trained by a monk to box to defend himself against school bullies. This is not exactly an original trope in fiction, but in this debut novel it is handled well by Wurger, who is an experience­d boxer himself as well as being a journalist with the German magazine Der Spiegel.

After finishing boarding school, Hans is offered a place in Cambridge University through the machinatio­ns of his aunt, a lecturer in art at the university, on the condition that he infiltrate and expose the goings-on in the Pitt Club. This is a dining club exclusive to males whose members past and present are part of the English establishm­ent. Females are invited on the basis of their looks, and their drinks are spiked. It is interestin­g to note Wurger himself attended Cambridge University for a while before dropping out and was a member of the Pitt Club which does actually exist.

Hans, feeling friendless and lonely and “dreaming of belonging somewhere”, accepts his aunt’s offer. She falsifies his name and assigns him a trumped up bio.

However, Hans soon feels out of place among fellow students with superior airs and sense of entitlemen­t. The aunt introduces him to one of her students, the beautiful and enigmatic Charlotte

Farewell and they soon become an item. Through the intercessi­on of Charlotte’s father Angus, a powerful financier and former member of the Pitt Club, Hans is nominated and accepted into the group.

When they discover his boxing skills, Hans is lionised by the club and is asked to box for Cambridge against old rival Oxford. On wining his match, he is invited to join a secret sect within the Pitt Club known as the Butterflie­s.

When Hans witnesses Josh, a Butterfly with psychopath­ic tendencies, take away a drugged “golden girl” from a dinner party, he does not intervene. Instead, he hides in a toilet and only after the violation does he act. With the aid of Charlotte, he collects the names of the Butterflie­s, including that of her father and Hans’s own false name.

When the story of the Butterflie­s is published in a British newspaper, Angus Farewell knows the game is up. Realising the shame hanging over his own life and anxious to exact revenge for the violation of his daughter, he takes the inevitable and predictabl­e course of action.

While the book is short and easy to read, myriad characters jump in and out of the narrative addressing the reader in monologues. Some of these characters are mere caricature­s, sketchily delineated and make the story disjointed.

Also at times, the plot feels agenda-driven and purposeful­ly topical within the remit of the Me Too movement. Charlotte appears as a prototype of a strong woman who survives abuse, and the depressed aunt Alex, who suffered at the hands of Angus many years ago, and in seeking revenge through her nephew, wants her abuser “to feel what I had felt. The feeling of being an object.

“It should feel what it meant no longer to have any control over your own life.”

jameslawle­ss.net

 ??  ?? The Club
Takis Wurger Grove Press, €15.30
Review: James Lawless
The Club Takis Wurger Grove Press, €15.30 Review: James Lawless

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