Thursday, 29 September 2011

Homecoming by Bernhard Schlink | The Odyssey revisited

Books about books have always had a strong appeal to me. Perhaps because it makes me feel less of a geek when I'm in the presence of similar spirits, as in people who are as fascinated by stories as I am. It also allows me to think about some of the things we discussed at Uni about stories (yes, I do miss literature studies!!).

In Homecoming, the narrator as a child comes across parts of a manuscript in his grandparents' house. The end of the story, the conclusion to the Odyssean story of homecoming, is missing. As an adult, Peter Debauer is still curious about the ending of the story, and starts trying to discover the secrets of the text.

The homecoming motif is emphasised throughout the novel. In Peter's own life, there are homecomings upon homecomings. The issue of what happens when the man returns to his woman after a long separation is a central conflict in the text, and all the "endings" to that exact story are different. Peter becomes obsessed with the Odyssean story of homecoming and the story without an ending. He analyses his own behaviour according to the Odyssey in an attempt to make sense of his life and situation, but all it does is allow him to stay in a place of inaction, of postponing the inevitable homecoming.

Eventually it becomes clear that the manuscript is directly linked to Peter himself. The writer turns out to be his elusive father, a man Peter never knew. Peter finds other texts by his father, more political texts with a rethoric Peter finds provoking, where evil acts justify a good end. Peter becomes increasingly aggressive as he learns more of this man, and before he can truly be "home" and marry his girlfriend Barbara, he has to try to get to know this man.

Post-war Germany is a backdrop to the events of the narrative. The border issues, issues of collective guilt and identity are connected to this and gives the novel further depth.

As a narrator, Peter both analyses himself ruthlessly at times, and brushes acts off as mere details at other times. On his final "quest", he admits to not knowing what exactly it is he wants, but at the same time he is unable to tear himself away from the approaching train crash and just go home. Considering the events that finally lead to his inevitable homecoming, it is almost as if Peter is waiting to have his worst hopes (or fears?) confirmed.

I found this novel very interesting. The mystery surrounding the manuscript and the slow path to finding out more intrigued me. The many layers of homecomings also gave the story more depth. If I were to read Homecoming against The Odyssey this could probably be a very long essay, but my reading of The Odyssey was negligent at best. I prefer this modernised version (no offense to all the literature scholars who think this is blasphemy).

No comments: