Review published on May 17, 2018.
In this novel, Krugel’s first to be translated from the German, we follow the course of Katharina’s life over two days – a weekend where her husband wants her in one place and she will be in other, both with children and a long-standing friend, visiting after many years.
Her husband, after a long period of unemployment, is working in another city at a second choice job. Her son Alex is 17 and starting his first serious relationship. Her 10-year-old daughter, Helli, has what is described in short as ADHD, but it is massively more significant than that. She has been juggling a series of part-time jobs, teaching rather than in her preferred music. To top it all, she has spotted breast lumps – her mother died early from cancer – and in spite of the shock she has to work out when and how she will respond.
So we are given a story of a busy woman juggling the big and small things of life. Written by an incredibly assured author, we are presented with a stream of words detailing the people, the places, the actions and reactions all in minute detail. The busyness of the text mirrors the complexities of the busyness of the lives that Katharina is holding together, melding the minutiae with the major and the urgent with the unimportant. Real life is not all major issues, so we get the lesser issues of escaping rats and combusting washing machines (and children), untimely nosebleeds and telephone calls about Christmas preparations – we have all been there or somewhere similar. You have to see the light side of life, or you would cry, so the occasional levity intrudes.
But behind it all Katharina is trying to come to terms with possible terminal illness diagnosis – her mortality in short. That, and the impact both practical and psychological, on those she loves. And as a busy family woman she has barely a quiet minute to contemplate in peace, let alone work out how to tell her family or friends the news.
Does that sound grim? Well, it does not actually read that way as the reader is pulled into a stream of thoughts and actions that is highly compulsive. Definitely one of those “read in one sitting”, “hard to put down” books. Nothing in the tale is unlikely or unbelievable, it all rings true. However, with Katharina as a sympathetic character, and making initial attempts to review her life and options, the novel asks serious questions and “what ifs?” of the reader.
This is one that will spark vibrant discussions – as well as wry chuckles – in most book groups.
Hilary White 4/4
Look At Me by Mareike Krugel
Text Publishing Company 9781925603354 pbk Jun 2018