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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Pull Yourself Together

Thomas Glavinic

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To purchase Pull Yourself Together

Title: Pull Yourself Together
Author: Thomas Glavinic
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 239 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Pull Yourself Together - US
Pull Yourself Together - UK
Pull Yourself Together - Canada
Pull Yourself Together - India
Wie man leben soll - Deutschland
  • German title: Wie man leben soll
  • Tramnslated by John Brownjohn

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written, if not entirely satisfying Bildungsroman

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 2/9/2005 Daniele Strigl
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 22/7/2004 Franz Haas
Die Presse . 14/5/2004 O.P. Zier
Der Standard . 13/3/2004 Stefan Gmünder
Stern . 30/3/2004 Carsten Heidböhme
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 22/3/2004 Robin Detje
Der Tagesspiegel . 24/3/2004 Markus Ehrenberg

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, but generally enjoyed it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Komik dieses Romans -- und er ist ziemlich komisch -- ergibt sich auch aus der Kluft zwischen jenen hehren Zielen und den zahlreichen hilflosen Aufschwüngen, die allesamt zum Scheitern verurteilt sind." - Daniele Strigl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Mit Ausnahme der wundersamen Auferstehung auf den letzten vier Seiten bietet dieser Roman das treue Zerrbild einer Epoche und einer Generation, die sich in der falschen Zeit und am falschen Ort fühlt." - Franz Haas, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "In ihm wird das Heranwachsen von Karl "Charly" Kolostrum als Parodie auf jene Ratgeberliteratur erzählt, an der sich der Protagonist orientiert, da er in einer Zeit lebt, der die Helden fehlen, an deren Beispiel er sich aufrichten könne, wie er einmal bedauert. Somit lebt er sein Leben sozusagen über der Frage, wie es "richtig" zu leben sei. (...) Thomas Glavinic trifft in diesem Buch vieles sehr genau" - O.P. Zier, Die Presse

  • "(E)ine unterhaltsame, mit skurrilen Motiven gespickte, nicht ganz unglaubwürdige Geschichte vom Erwachsenwerden (samt erster Liebe, Sex, Studienversuchen, WGs, Gelegenheitsjobs und allem, was dazugehört), die einen beträchtlichen Sog entwickelt. (...) Das Buch ist hintergründiger angelegt, als es auf den ersten Blick scheint, denn es spielt mit Elementen der Ratgeberliteratur ebenso wie mit solchen des Bildungs- und auch des Generationenromans." - Stefan Gmünder, Der Standard

  • "Das Buch ist gespickt mit urkomischen Szenen. Allein die Schilderung von Karls Tagträumen ist die Lektüre wert." - Carsten Heidböhmer, Stern

  • "Manchmal gibt's was zu Schmunzeln, doch das rettet das Buch nicht." - Markus Ehrenberg, Der Tagesspiegel

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Wie man leben soll ('How One Should Live') is a modern Bildungsroman, following the life of Karl 'Charlie' Kolostrum from his late teens to his early thirties. The focus is on his late teens and early twenties (the book then zips ahead, as Charlie has one more chance at success, of sorts), Charlie generally stumbling ahead -- generally in a direction that depends only on which way he is being nudged by whoever is on hand at the moment.
       The novel is presented in short chapters, episodes from hapless Charlie's life. What is most striking is the approach: it is not written in the first or second person, or the familiar distant third ('he did', etc.) but rather using a far more generalising and inclusive approach: 'man tut das' etc. ("one does this" or that, etc.). It's an unusual approach, suggesting Charlie's experiences can be considered universal, and calling the reader to put him or herself in the place of Charlie. Given that Kolostrum is not someone most readers are likely to identify with it seems a tall order -- and yet there are enough common experiences of adolescence and young adulthood that Charlie goes through that readers can at least imagine the situations (and cringe at some too-familiar ones).
       Each chapter also comes with at least one lesson or moral, written in italics and beginning: "Merke:" ("Remember:") -- lessons that aren't necessarily instructive, but do offer the obvious conclusions from Charlie's latest experience (which generally involves some sort of mishap). Like the novels of Alain de Botton, Wie man leben soll examines what motivates a character and what the consequences are, trying to examine lives from some distance but with the emotional and instinctive completely dominating the rational (which is found practically only in the dry commentary to actual life Glavinic also offers). Like de Botton, Glavinic is also a humorous writer -- and Wie man leben soll is consistently amusing, with several laugh-out-loud moments -- though he writes a more precise prose. (This isn't always a sympathetic novel, but one has to admire how very well crafted it is.)
       The book sets up the contrast between Charlie's limited life and the outside world from the beginning: the first scene takes place with news of the Challenger space shuttle disaster in the background (with Chernobyl soon to follow), but Charlie has managed to get a girl in bed for the first time and his own fumblings easily drown out actual disaster. Charlie is something of a loser, but he does get the girls -- not necessarily the ones he wants, but still. Charlie is a sad sack, but he's a realistic character in that he isn't a completely lost outsider; he finds groups to which he can belong. Generally, he's taken advantage of, but not maliciously. It's the sort of existence shared by more people than one might care to admit.
       Charlie is a big boy -- weighing in at 100 kilos (220 lb) when he graduates high school and eventually making it all the way up in the 150-kilo range. He's coddled by his family: an aunt gives him enough money to get by for quite a while, and while mom is gruff (and, at the beginning, substance-dependant) and not exactly supportive the family as a whole offers the sort of safety net one can keep at a distance and yet always depend upon. Charlie gets out of military service (with the help of an aunt). He pretends to study art history (for want of anything better -- and because the girls who major in it are the most attractive), but knows his vague dreams of becoming a museum director aren't exactly realistic. Mostly he hangs about and follows others about, dragged into a few things that shake his life up a bit (but also escaping them if the emotional involvement (or required exertion) becomes too much). Eventually he becomes a taxi driver, a lifestyle he can settle into comfortably, and one he's only ripped out of after years, when there's an opportunity to live out one of his unlikely dreams.
       Charlie's listless and unengaged attitude get him into a number of odd situations. It all doesn't much matter to him -- he's very rarely a doer, and he's so apathetic in many respects that he doesn't make a great follower either -- but can have ramifications for those who rely on him. Told to push a button, he pulls a lever closer at hand -- button ? lever ? same difference, he figures -- resulting in a bit more than a shock to the system. But even when he wreaks havoc, Charlie muddles by, almost unaffected.
       Charlie's slips into adulthood, but he never really matures. He -- and many of those he surrounds himself with -- get by in the way of children: do what one can get away with, and occasionally (usually when told) do what is necessary. The weekly highlight for him and his friends becomes calling in to a radio talk-show and trying to get on the air. That's pretty much as far as Charlie's ambition goes. (Success, when it comes, necessarily comes entirely unexpectedly -- and he's pushed into it, rather than achieving it for himself.)

       Charlie isn't a particularly sympathetic character, though he is fundamentally decent (perhaps his saving grace). It's hard to identify with him -- though one might readily recognise others in him. Glavinic wallows in this life, and that is fun: Glavinic writes well, comes up with a few very good situations, describes this life in painful-hilarious depth. But there's also a certain hollowness to it: Wie man leben soll is presented with self-help trappings (the title, the italicised 'lessons' in each chapter) but offers neither the exemplary life one might imitate ('How One Should Live'), nor is it a strictly contrary model, of lessons to learn from another's mistakes. It offers a good picture of a generation, amusingly presented -- but at the end that seems a bit too little. It's a fine story, but ultimately not entirely satisfying.

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Wie man leben soll: Reviews: Other books by Thomas Glavinic under review: Thomas Glavinic: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Thomas Glavinic was born in 1972.

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© 2004-2019 the complete review

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