Andrea Maria Schenkel: Bunker (2009)

It had been a normal day at work. Monika was locking up, ready to head home, when the man arrived. She didn’t see his fist until it was far too late. Bundled into a car, tied up and taken in darkness to an old mill in the thick of a forest, she has been flung into a bunker. It is only now, as time passes and she sees her attacker in the light, that she notices the startling resemblance to someone from her very dark and buried past. Someone she never wanted to see again.

Andrea Maria Schenkel entered the literary crime scene with a big bang when her first novel  The Murder FarmTannöd was published in Germany. Based on a true story it described a crime which wiped out a whole family. While there were many glowing reviews there were also a lot who predicted she would be a one hit wonder. Fact is, she has written three more novels, two very different ones, Ice Cold - Kalteis and Bunker - Bunker, and a fourth one which hasn’t been translated yet – Finsterau -, which is written in the vein of Tannöd, but none has had the success of the first.

Bunker is a very unusual crime novel. It takes a long time to figure out what is going on as the POV occasionally changes two to three times per page. If the different points of view were not printed in different type, it would be nearly impossible to know who is telling the story. If you are an impatient person you might give up after a few pages. I decided to read until the end and must say, I don’t regret it. Instead of passively reading about the confusion of the victim, we share this confusion which was an interesting experience.

Monika is abducted from her work place, tied up, thrown into a car and driven to a mill in a dark forest. A bunker belongs to the mill and she is held captive there. The man hits and mishandles her but what he really wants is not clear.

After some time she feels she knows him. It seems to be someone she never wanted to see again and who was tied to the disappearance of her brother when she was still a teenager.

The relationship between Monika and her attacker changes constantly. While he hits her one moment, he takes care of her the next. At one point she has a chance to escape but she stays.

At the end of the book a murder has been committed, a person has been severely injured and another one escapes. That’s all I’m telling you.

I liked this puzzle approach, I found it interesting to only ever get a few snippets of information which only formed a whole after I had finished the book. The main story line ends in a satisfying way but there is a lot of back story which is never really sorted out. There are too many open questions at the end. I don’t aways mind being left with unanswered questions if I think, the author withheld answers despite the fact that he/she had them. When I feel it was an easy way out for the author, I’m not impressed. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that this is what happened here.

Bunker is a quick read, offers an interesting narrative technique but I’m still not sure whether it is not rather a gimmick than a great book.

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28 thoughts on “Andrea Maria Schenkel: Bunker (2009)

  1. I have seen a few folks at work reading this. My initial impression was that it might be a little too disturbing. Your comments and a quick look on Amazon make me think that the story might not be what it seems.

    As for the unawnsered questions, that works very well with some stories, I am not so sure I would be happy with such mysteries after reading a book such as this.

    • That’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought it’s all that known in the US.
      One thing is ceratin, it’s not a straightforward crme novel. It’s rather a bit experimental. Interesting but I thought there was a lot open at the end. Unless I didn’t get it.

  2. I wonder if the different type would confuse me. I tried to read the Sound and the Fury many years ago and couldn’t get through the multiple points of view. Of course, I think I was way too young and immature at the time.

    • I’ve seen a similar approach once but each POV had a title – name – in this case, I think it was the authors intention to confuse us to make us participate. The type they chose were very similra and it took me more than five pages to notice… If you know in advance it’s easier. I thought it was interesting but I can’t say I’m wowed. The Sound and the Fury should be way better but I hear often that it’s not very accessible. Another writer to read for the first time. :)

      • I remember hearing that Faulkner wanted his publisher to use different color ink for his novel, but the publisher didn’t agree to it. I’ve read a couple of his books, but it has been years. He kinda scares me actually.

        • I can see why they didn’t accept that… Would have made it look like a children’s book.
          It was interesting to se his “As I lay Dying” mentioned several times on my post on funny novels… Surprising as well. In any case, I’ll start with that one, I guess. And The Light in August is another one that tempts me much. I’ve read Ulysses when I was 20 and thought it was a quick read…How much more difficult can Faulkner be? I think we need time is all. Not books to read before going to bed. :)

          • I read As I lay Dying years ago, but can’t remember it much now. It must be over 20 years. I have a few of his novel on my shelf and I hope to get to him. I wish you luck! I still haven’t read Ulysses–that’s another one that scares me.

  3. I bought a copy of this a while ago now, it caught my eye but it has lain unread thus far. Thank you for your great review. It has encourgaged me to give it a try, though it may not be within German Lit Month now.

  4. Nice review, Caroline! Glad to know that you liked the book, though there seem to be loose ends which the author hasn’t bothered to tie up. I haven’t heard of Andrea Maria Schenkel before. I would like to try one of her books sometime.

  5. The Murder Farm rings a bell – but quite possibly that’s because I remember your post on it. I think the problem with experiments in form can be that they feel like a gimmick or a burden if they aren’t shown to really add something to the narrative. Although the intriguing sense of confusion you talk about seems to arise from that tangle of voices. I would quite like to try The Murder Farm one of these days. I should hold out for a bit, though, as I have rather a lot of unread crime fiction on my shelves and really shouldn’t buy any more!

    • The Murder Farm is quite tight and pithy, somewhat cold as well. It’s not bad at all and very short. Her books are never over 200pages it seems.
      Maybe you’ll find a cheap edition some day.

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  7. to be honest, I am more curious about the book after reading the comments. When I read your review, my first thought was hmmm it’s an okay book…but through your comment’s replies it seems rather interesting.

    btw, I have seen Napola, just need to find time to write the review ;)

  8. I read the other two books you mentioned. I liked the Murder Farm–the style it was written in, but had a few problems with Ice Cold–some of it felt a little too gratuitous to me. I’m not sure how I feel about her book–they are violent and a little too graphic and I was put off a little bit–didn’t want to pick this one up too soon, but I think I am still not ready for another book by her. Her books are quite short but unremitting, too.

    • You can skip this. It was my last of her. It was more interesting to see another approach to crime writing than a really good book.
      The latest which will certainly be translated seems like The Murder Farm but I don’t need to read a second book like that. There are far too many great books out there.

  9. Pingback: German Literature Month 2012: Author Index « Lizzy’s Literary Life

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