Russell Hoban


Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (1999).

Kleinzeit, the eponymous hero of the novel, is an advertising copywriter (as was Russell Hoban at one time). At the beginning of the novel he is sacked, becomes ill, and goes into hospital, where there is a beautiful night sister with whom he falls in love. We follow his progress through his illness, which is always referred to in surreal terms (something wrong with his hypotenuse). The narrative tone throughout is light and jokey, but there is an underlying note of fear. Inanimate things are personalized and conduct dialogues with Kleinzeit and Sister that are sometimes facetious, sometimes threatening. Above all, Hospital is a constant brooding presence, who occasionally devours some of the minor characters (they die).

We follow Kleinzeit as he absconds from hospital and moves about London, encountering various strange people en route, including a red-bearded madman who has an obscure connection with yellow paper. He also meets Sister on her day off and they start an affair. Periodically he collapses and finds himself back in Hospital, where attempts are made to persuade him to agree to an operation, but he resists this and signs himself out. At the end of the book he is back at home, recovered for the time being, writing a novel on the yellow paper he has somehow inherited from the red-bearded madman, and living with the beautiful Sister. So all is well for the time being, but death is hovering round Kleinzeit, as he hovers round everyone, and we know that this can only be a temporary reprieve. In a sense, Kleinzeit is Everyman (his name means Small Time in German).

This is a wonderful novel, simultaneously funny and tragic. I loved it.

%T Kleinzeit
%A Hoban, Russell
%I Pan Books
%C London
%D 1976
%P 191 pp
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