Lions of the Grunewald and Shrimp Toast

“I say things but I may mean times. I say things and times but I may mean persons and places, or maybe just thinking of you. Your name at the end of the world. That’s how it goes, how it always went, how it always will go. One replaces another in what you call Herz and the light goes out.” – Lions of the Grunewald

Lions of the Grunewald is a novel by Aidan Higgins. Published in 1993, it is concerned with the life an Irishman, Professor Weaver, and the time he spends in Berlin in 1969. Weaver has travelled to Berlin with his South African wife, Nancy, and their young son, Nico. Their extended stay in the city is funded by the stipend that Weaver receives from an obscure organisation called DILDO (one drop in the ocean of sexual innuendo in this book).

Weaver, almost by accident, encounters the beautiful and seductive Lore at a party for DILDO affiliates. Lore is in her late twenties and a born and bred Berliner. She works as a private secretary and lives with her parents, the Schröders, in an impeccably clean apartment. Weaver and Lore embark on an impassioned affair, a decision that has some unfortunate consequences. Their relationship is physical, but also entwined in the places they go to (and make love in) in Berlin and further afield.

Higgins writes eloquently and amusingly, even when describing some quite sordid scenes (notably the porn film that a certain Japanese university professor in Berlin is making). There is a sense of rootlessness and movement in his writing, enhanced by the stream of consciousness style that he adopts. Lions of the Grunewald is a meditation on human relationships, love, cities, migrations.

The novel differs from Higgins’ first, and perhaps best-known work, Langrishe, Go Down. It is interesting to compare his development as a writer over a quarter century. He is maybe more audacious in Lions of the Grunewald, but his attention to detail remains, as well as the striking narrative voice in his writing.

I bought Lions of the Grunewald after a friend in Dublin recommended it following a lengthy conversation we had about Berlin on her bedroom floor. I enjoy to read books in which places almost overwhelm characters. In recent days I have been eating a lot of fish, especially shrimp from Rob in Brussels, when it is heaped on fresh Belgian bread (perhaps the best in the world, but I am biased) with sliced of tomato. Simple but extremely effective.

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