Posts Tagged ‘Zoran Drvenkar’

I liked Zoran Drvenkar’s Tell Me What You See’, which I read in November, so much, that I decided to read his thriller ‘Sorry’. This is my last contribution for German Literature Month this year. Though the event ended in November, my reading crossed the month as it took me more than my normal time to finish reading this book.

Sorry By Zoran Drvenkar

‘Sorry’ is a story told through different viewpoints. Or rather it presumes to tell a story through different viewpoints. Two points of view are quite clear – one in the second person, using which Drvenkar cleverly tries to co-opt the reader into the story, and the second one told in the first person where the identity of the narrator is not revealed till the end. The other points of view are not really that – they presume to tell the story from the perspective of different characters, but they actually narrate the story in a linear fashion.


The start of the story is told from a second person point of view. We, as readers, are excited to be co-opted into the story. Unfortunately, it results in a man visiting a woman’s house, kidnapping her, taking her to an abandoned apartment and then nailing her to the wall. The woman looks like a nice and gentle person and the man is clearly violent. The story then goes back in time and turns to the lives of four friends – two young men who are brothers and two young women who are close friends. One of them has an idea – to start an agency which will apologize on behalf of corporate customers who make mistakes, mistakes like firing an employee for a crime he / she didn’t commit. Their business thrives and the agency starts doing well and the four friends buy a villa near a lake. Things are quite hunky dory for them. Then our man, who nails the woman to the wall, calls them. He tells them that he needs their services. He wants to apologize to someone. He makes the payment for their services and gives them the address. One of the four friends reaches the address. He finds the woman nailed to the wall. He panics. He realizes that they are neck deep in trouble. Then things start getting worse. All is not what it seems. The murderer is not the black hearted villain he seems. And the dead woman is not the innocent angel she seems. And there is a third, unknown old man who comes into the picture, who seems to have sinister designs. And the book is not the thriller that it seems.


I found ‘Sorry’ to be an interesting book. I found the experiment with the multiple points of view quite interesting. Though I also felt that Drvenkar wasn’t able to pull it off. For example, as Iain Pears has brilliantly done in ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’. Because multiple narrators offer fascinating opportunities for complex storytelling. If one of the narrators is unreliable, it makes things more interesting. But Drvenkar seemed to have missed a trick here. I found it quite interesting that the murderer’s story is told in the second person. When we, the readers, are quite excited to be co-opted into to the story, we immediately see a gruesome murder and are repelled. And we are able to see what is happening in the murderer’s mind, which is quite scary. The book also seems to address the philosophical issue of whether apologizing is a personal thing and whether it can be done by a third party on one’s behalf and whether this is enough to lessen one’s guilt. It also asks questions on whether it is morally right to assuage one’s guilt in this way. The basic plot of the book was interesting and fast-paced. It was not an amazing pageturner, but it was good.


My favourite feature of the book was this. There were beautiful sentences strewn like pearls throughout the book which described everyday things in beautiful ways; sentences like these :


“She cries silently; the people react as people always do and look the other way”.


“The woman’s pain is like a bridge that any one can walk on, if they can summon up some compassion.”


“There’s just the desire somehow to fit in, but without really having to belong. She likes society too much to be an outsider, she’s too much of an outsider to conform.”


“It’s always difficult when your surroundings don’t change at the same pace as you do yourself.”


“the morning light is like underwater photographs on a rainy day.”


“The cat’s belly rises ad falls as if it feels completely safe. Wolf wishes he had the cat’s confidence.”


“Frauke appears as a negative for a moment.”


“Winter hurled itself over the land, and has withdrawn just as quickly.”


“In her scent he finds the whole day. The grief, the weariness, and the fury.”


These sentences kept on coming again and again and I loved them. I think this was the most wonderful thing about the book. Thrillers have surprised me on this front ever since I started reading them – they have some of the most beautiful sentences. Probably since the time Raymond Chandler started writing them. Drvenkar continues this proud tradition.


If I have to give the book a rating, I would give it the highest rating for these beautiful sentences and images and I would give it an average to good rating for the plot and other elements of the story. If you like an interesting unconventional thriller, you can give it a try.


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


Wolf is one of those writer types who only venture into writing very cautiously. He says he’s collecting experiences, but in fact he uses that to hide the fact that he isn’t sure what story he has to tell. His first great novel is waiting to be written. Short stories and poems are his bridge to that dream.


Two pigeons strut to the middle of the road and wait for the lights to change. When the cars start moving, the pigeons fly up and land on a windowsill. As soon as the light turns red. they land on the pavement, strut back to the middle of the road, and the game starts all over again. You watch them for four phases of the lights and wonder if pigeons have a sense of humor.


As he was nostalgically watching the new day, he suddenly had a curious feeling. It was one of those premonitions that can be prompted by anything – by the silence between two songs, the sound of a waiter clearing his throat, scraping chair legs, or the silence after someone has lit a cigarette and exhaled the smoke.


I think that if you’ve been pursued by a nightmare for seven years, however often you wake up, you don’t trust the whole thing. The nightmare becomes reality and why should reality suddenly disappear?


Have you read ‘Sorry’ by Zoran Drvenkar? What do you think about it?

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I won Zoran Drvenkar’s ‘Tell Me What You see’ in the giveaway hosted by Caroline for German Literature Month. I read it along with Caroline for genre week – that is the third week –  of German Literature Month. Here is what I think.

The story of ‘Tell Me What You See’ is told from multiple points of view but all of them tell the story of the teenage heroine Alissa. When Alissa was young her father dies in a road accident. Alissa misses her father and every year she goes to her father’s grave on Christmas night along with her best friend Evelin. The story told in the book happens during a period lasting for around a week starting from Christmas night. Though it is snowing, Alissa and Evelin leave their homes after everyone has gone to sleep to visit Alissa’s father’s grave. Because of the snow, they are not able to find it easily. While they are searching for it in the graveyard, Alissa falls into a crypt. While her friend Evelin goes home to get her father to help Alissa, Alissa walks through the crypt and finds a small coffin. She notices a strange kind of plant growing out of the coffin. Some force beyond her control makes her open the coffin and she discovers that there is a child’s body inside and the plant grows straight out of the child’s heart. Before she has realized it Alissa has taken the plant and put it in her pocket. Alissa is rescued by Evelin and her father and she goes back home. The next day morning there are two strange people inside her room, when Alissa wakes up. She asks them who they are, and they are surprised that she can see them. One of them says that they are too late. The other asks her about the plant. Alissa suddenly remembers it and searches for it in her jacket pocket. She realizes that it is not there. She realizes that she might have eaten it. The visitors leave mysteriously, the same way they came. Then strange things start happening to Alissa. And her ex-boyfriend Simon starts stalking her and starts behaving strangely towards her. What is the mystery behind the plant and what happens to Alissa and how she discovers the secret and what impact it has on her life form the rest of the story.


‘Tell Me What You See’ has many of the typical elements which one finds in a modern YA story – a teenage heroine having strange experiences, her loyal friend who stays with her through thick and thin, a stalking ex-boyfriend, a lesbian character or two, supernatural (or should I say paranormal) incidents and a central mystery which is revealed in the last few pages. I liked most of the characters in the book, except for the stalking ex-boyfriend. He reminded me of the stalking, violent husband in Stephen King’s ‘Rose Madder’.


The book also has beautiful sentences sprinkled throughout the book. For example this one :


Whenever I open my mouth, the wind blows snow crystals into my throat. They feel like powdered glass. And whenever Evelin speaks, it sounds as though she’s chewing cotton.


And this one :


When did we start drinking coffee? It’s really odd. At some point you start to do things that never interested you before – drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, lighting candles during the day, sitting on the floor and answering the telephone with an Uh-huh?


The book also has warmly depicted family scenes The way the relationship between Alissa and her stepfather is described is very beautiful and warm. In one place Alissa describes her stepfather Robert like this :


A few minutes later we’re sitting opposite each other. We’re alike, even though he’s not my father and never will be. We’re alike in our mannerisms. That’s probably what happens when you live with somebody for a while. The way he smells the coffee. Or the way he leans forward and hunches up his shoulders because he’s cold.


In another place Robert describes a conversation he has with Alissa like this :


      “How’s he doing?” asks Alissa.

      “Better…The doctors say he’s lucky to be alive.”

      Alissa puts the soup onto the tray.

      “But nothing happened to me?” she asks, looking at her hands.

      “You were lucky.”

      She puts her hands back on her stomach and says quietly, “It wasn’t my fault.”

      I nod, even though I don’t know whether to believe her.

      “Of course it wasn’t your fault,” I say. There are two liars in the room now.


I am sorry if the above dialogue doesn’t have the same impact, when it is quoted out of context.


Here are a few descriptions of the cold.


Cool air blows in. It’s the special cool air that you only get in winter. I’m so happy, I want to cry.


The cold has changed. It’s more familiar to me. Now I also know why it’s so biting. I understand it, we know each other. The cold is bundled rage. Rage and longing. All in one.


Even though I’m dressed warmly, the cold sticks to me. It’s especially bad at night; warmth shuns me, cold is my new friend. At first it hurt, but now I feel as though the heat of the apartment is suffocating me. I hope I’m not ill with the flu or one of those new viruses.


The central mystery revealed was very different from what I expected. While the mystery was panning out, it reminded me at different times of C.S.Lewis’ ‘Till We Have Faces’ and the films ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind’. I was hoping and praying that it wouldn’t turn out the way ‘A Beautiful Mind’ did. The ending is bittersweet – first bitter, then sweet and then a combination of both. It was sad in some ways, but I am glad that it was not tragic.


I liked ‘Tell Me What You See’ very much. Zoran Drvenkar is an exciting new-to-me writer and I hope to read more of his books in the future, especially ‘Sorry’ his thriller for grown-ups. I also hope that more of his books get translated into English.


You can find Caroline’s review of ‘Tell Me What You See’ here.


Have you read Zoran Drvenkar’s ‘Tell Me What You See’? What do you think about it?

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