Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Gantenbein by Max Frisch

Gantenbein was recommended to me by a close friend, who said it made a really big impact on him. It took me a long time to get through this book, and I often struggled to follow the narrative. The author writes in a very experimental style, alternating between three different men, all of which are in love with Lila, a beautiful stage actress. Events that happen don't seem to have chronology or causation. Sometimes they branch out into multiple futures, other times you reset in another time, another place, and as another person. The book is a set of sketches around these people, more so than a coherent whole. Adding to the complexity, the narrator himself seems to not be a single person, but alternates between people. And this smoke and mirrors is explicit. The author often writes "I imagine...", and the title is more accurately translated "Let's assume my name is Gantenbein".

I found this book to be a piercing view into human nature. I could relate to much of what the characters within it struggle with, which made reading it difficult and slow. Gantenbein, one of the protagonists, decides to pretend to be blind for his whole life, and builds a relationship with Lila. He wears dark glasses, which conceal his lie from others. But he himself has to be careful not to reveal his secret. He can see, but must pretend that he can't, and this leads to painful allegory on good relationships.

This book was hard to read. I never got into a flow, and ended up reading very unevenly, often wanting to set it down for a while. But some parts I really loved, like when one of the characters attends his own funeral. And I was surprised to, after finishing it, have a feeling that some coherence emerged by the end. My understanding of this book would benefit from a re-reading, but I know that this is unlikely to happen.