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Arno Camenisch | The pessimist and the dreamer

04.11.2015 – Ruth von Gunten

“The dead are dancing too tonight” or “you feel an outsider in your own living room, and you are happy when you can leave again”. These are sentences uttered by the man who travels with his wife to Engadine. The recently retired couple of modest means have won first prize in the village tombola – several nights at a five-star hotel.

Readers accompany the disparate couple in 47 scenes set in and around the hotel. The husband constantly has his plastic bag with him from which he pulls all sorts of items, ranging from a pocket torch to chocolate. He is always looking for something to eat, while his wife’s hunger is for life. The habitual moaner ponders death fantasies and the passing of friends. His wife, the proud owner of a sequin dress, wants to see something of the world. Will their stay at the luxury hotel turn out to be therapeutic or a macabre nightmare?

The individual scenes read like stage directions to a comedic theatrical production where the two main characters talk at cross purposes. The husband, a pessimist, and his wife, a dreamer, are completely incompatible but nevertheless treat one another respectfully and lovingly. As close as they are after over 30 years of marriage, they still remain strangers to one another. The exaggerated characters are often close to us as readers but yet remain nameless. The situations switch between tragedy and comedy, making it easy reading. Despite focussing on the dialogue, the author’s attention continually zooms in on the surroundings like in a film. The retired couple’s conversations – no real dialogue – are sprinkled with expressions from Swiss dialect. It will be interesting to see how that is dealt with in translation.

Arno Camenisch tackles major issues, such as death, but often only goes halfway. Greater depth is required, but this is nonetheless a highly stimulating read. The author born in Grisons in 1978 writes in German and Romansh. He worked as a teacher at the Swiss school in Madrid and then studied at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel where he lives today. The media like to call him a rising star of Swiss literature. He has received many awards for his work. His books “Sez Ner” (The Alp) and “Hinter dem Bahnhof” (Behind the Station) are available in French, Italian, English, Dutch, Spanish, Hungarian and other languages. Anyone fortunate enough to attend one of his readings will also enjoy Camenisch’s theatrical talents.

Arno Camenisch: “Die Kur”; Engeler-Verlag Solothurn, 2015; 96 pages; CHF 25; around 19 euros.