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The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

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The funniest book of 2016: Nell Zink’s first novel The Wallcreeper from 2014 is a witty, dark and sharp portrait of a marriage as perceived by Tiffany, our unsentimental, humorous and snappy heroine.

There is no way to recap this book in a few lines without corrupting it by focusing on the plot and history – both are present, but neither matter much. What is important when reading and enjoying this book is the language: Zink’s odd metaphors, her analogies, her wonderful one-liners and a dialogue that is totally off the map, but anyhow: A miscarriage happens, buttsex is introduced and a bird is being adopted (kidnapped?). That was the first 7 pages. Steven and Tiffany meet, they are married within three weeks and they move to Berne, Switzerland where he has gotten a job at a lab. They don’t know anything about each other and each respects the privacy of the other too much to ask – or maybe it’s just the ultimate laziness, so they are continuously surprised by each other’s preferences, hobbies and motivations. The reader gets to know them at the same pace as they do.

Each has several affairs and are they wildly unhappy at times, treating each other naturally, i.e. as garbage. Tiffany’s most enjoyable lover is Elvis the Montenegrin, who is also a Syrian Jew, Turkish and a disciple of Žižek. The syntax of Elvis’ speech has gone through several languages and has exited through a lawn mover. I sincerely hope Zink gives him his own book.

But what is really interesting is Tiffany. She beholds the world in a gaze that is both detached and cleansed of society. Her view often feels like a sober and dry prima vista of sex, climate and marriage. At the same time, there is a double gaze towards the viewer: Her thoughts are both connected to what is going on around her, but they also appear as Zink flexing her own brain and throwing her vocabulary and critiques onto the reader. It’s a pleasant, fun and humbling experience being in the company of a book with sentences that are so way off, closed off to the reader, and at the same time so inviting.

Tiffany is an odd character, but loads of fun: She completely embraces the authority of coincidences and goes with the flow, calling herself a mindless whore while adopting the hobby of her husband and perusing the city, looking at birds and faking work to avoid work. The genre can perhaps be described as hyper realism, with several foci that make for a restless read, but while Zink takes up a lot of issues, she shows them no loyalty from a political perspective – nothing is sacred.

And last: Rudi, the bird. But is he a bird or is he the foetus ghost of Tiffany’s miscarriage replacing her pregnancy and dying about the same time as she would have given birth, in the meantime taking up the space between Stephen and Tiffany, and  saying “Twee”?

If you want to hear more about The Wallcreeper, have a listen to this month’s edition of the Ark Audio Book Club!

Giovanna, wildly gifted pedestrian, yet is able to remain humble. Would love to engineer a lovechild/super-breed author between Ben Lerner and Chris Kraus, but will also settle for a coffee table book with pictures of them and/or a documentary where they walk the Camino together.

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