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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Club

Takis Würger

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To purchase The Club

Title: The Club
Author: Takis Würger
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 212 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Club - US
The Club - UK
The Club - Canada
La fraternité - France
Der Club - Deutschland
  • German title: Der Club
  • Translated by Charlotte Collins

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Our Assessment:

B : reductive/simplistic, but light on its feet

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 14/3/2017 Thomas Thiel
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 24/3/2017 Rainer Moritz
The NY Times Book Rev. . 21/4/2019 Adelle Waldman
Die Welt . 9/3/2017 Patrik Schmidt
Die Zeit . 18/5/2017 David Hugendick

  From the Reviews:
  • "Würger schreibt im alerten Stil einer literarisierten Reportage. Nicht selten kippt das ins Preziöse (...) Auf dem Höhepunkt des Geschehens opfert Würger die Psychologie leider der Drastik." - Thomas Thiel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Würgers Roman Der Club greift Motive verschiedener Genres auf. Zum einen ist er ein betont britischer Campus-Roman, der von ferne an Evelyn Waugh und Anthony Powell erinnert und Hans' Befremden über die Initiationsriten an einer Eliteuniversität genüsslich ausbreitet. (...) Zum anderen arbeitet sein Text mit Elementen des Kriminalromans. (...) Es zeugt von einigem erzählerischem Talent, wie Takis Würger diese Geschichte von Rache und Vergeltung auflöst und wie er kunsthistorische Reminiszenzen einbaut (...). Doch sosehr Würger versucht, grosse, existenzielle Themen (...) anzuschlagen, so deutlich kristallisiert sich heraus, dass sein charmanter Stil nicht geeignet ist, die Rohheit dieser gesellschaftlichen Niederungen angemessen abzubilden." - Rainer Moritz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The gritty subject matter is juxtaposed against a prose style we tend to associate with a different kind of novel -- it reads more like a coming-of-age story than a thriller. Würger’s writing is mannered; it often has an otherworldly, fable-like quality. (...) The self-conscious bleakness and attempts at timelessness can seem a little forced, as if they are mostly intended to give the impression of depth and to distinguish the book from more commercial novels. (...) (I)t seems as if The Club is almost ingeniously designed for success: a guilty pleasure, but one we can leave sitting out on our coffee tables without a whiff of embarrassment. I, for one, ate it up in a day and a half." - Adelle Waldman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Sein Buch ist so kurzweilig geschrieben wie ein guter englischer Roman, nur eben auf Deutsch. Man folgt dieser schnellen, leichten Sprache bereitwillig, um die psychologischen Untiefen der Figuren und Abgründe der Handlung zu überspringen. Man erschrickt als Leser, aber dann ist man auch schon weiter. (...) Die kontrollierte Sprache, die vignettenhaften Kapitel, die knappen Dialoge -- all das erweckt zuweilen den trügerischen Eindruck, als stelle die Geschichte ihre Konflikte nur aus, statt sie zu ergründen." - Patrik Schmidt, Die Welt

  • "Der Club erzählt davon, wie weit Menschen unter dem sozialen Druck einer Gruppe bereit sind zu gehen. (...) Würgers Erzählweise, die komplett im Dienste der Handlung steht, ist also durchaus packend, allerdings ausschließlich während der Lektüre. Alles scheint dem ästhetischen Prinzip zu gehorchen: What you see is what you get. Die lakonische Strenge, die man auf den ersten Seiten noch zu bewundern bereit ist, hinterlässt indes bald den Eindruck einer gewissen Temperamentlosigkeit und Lauheit. (...) Und wie in vielen solcher Reportagen bleibt am Ende dieser zügig vergehenden 230 Seiten nichts unverstanden, alles fügt sich, auf alles passt ein Deckel." - David Hugendick, Die Zeit

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:

       The central figure in The Club is Hans, who suffers tragedy early in his life, losing both his parents in quick succession while in his mid-teens and feeling tremendous guilt about their accidental deaths which he sees himself responsible for. His only relative is an aunt, Alex, who is a professor of art history at Cambridge who becomes his legal guardian; she doesn't, however, take him in, instead sending him to an eleven-man (plus a cook) Jesuit boarding school in the Bavarian Alps -- the kind of school where:

every pupil had to give a urine sample on Monday morning, which was tested for narcotics. The pupils were either the sons of rich businessmen or boys who had taken so many drugs their parents thought the monks would be better equipped to deal with them.
       Not coming from this milieu, Hans doesn't fit in very well -- but he had already developed a handy passion for boxing and finds a mentor here who can help him hone his talents. Aunt Alex, meanwhile, maintains her strictly hands-off policy, barely maintaining any sort of contact. Alex has her plans for Hans, however; bringing him to Cambridge for a visit, she explains:
     Hans, I want you to study here. You'll be given a place and a scholarship. I'll see to that. In return, you'll become a member of a club. I don't suppose you've ever heard of it. You'll become a member of the Pitt Club.
       Somewhat cryptically, she adds: "Your mission is to find out what the university boxers get up to there". She wants to solve a crime -- but won't tell Hans what that involved ("You'd ask the wrong questions at the Club").
       Apparently, it's that easy to get into Cambridge; on auntie's say-so Hans does -- albeit under an assumed name ("so no one finds out who you really are, or that we're related" his handler Alex explains) -- Hans Stichler. And he keeps up his boxing, which quickly puts him in contact with the very people his aunt wants him to be looking into.
       The Club is presented in short chapters from a variety of perspectives, additional ones brought in as they appear on the scene and in Hans' life and the story then shifting back and forth between these various characters -- though Hans' narration continues to get by far the most space. The first other point of view to appear is Alex's, but as she does with Hans, she holds back and isn't too revealing. Still, she offers a bit of an explanation -- to the reader, not Hans -- about why she didn't take him in when he was left without parents:
     Madness was already part of my life when my sister died. It's easy for me to admit this, because it explains a lot. The doctors didn't call it that; they talked about dissociation and trauma, but I know I was grappling with madness. I had to vanquish it alone. If I had taken Hans in, I would have destroyed us both. The dark thoughts would have infected him.
     I would have dragged the boy with me into the abyss. I wasn't ready yet. I wasn't myself.
       Once at Cambridge, Alex doesn't get much closer to Hans -- there's barely any contact between them -- but she does put him in touch with a graduate student who is to help him, Charlotte Farewell. She can help him get into the Pitt Club: her father, Angus, a very wealthy investment manager, is a member, and his endorsement is enough to get him in. Bonding over a shared love of boxing, Angus is happy enough to help Hans.
       The first glimpses of the Pitt Club suggest the usual college-age excess by the ultra-privileged, complete with a bit of a violent streak, but nothing too out of the ordinary. But there are hints of more dubious activity -- meeting another Club member at party, a prince who was also a boxer back then, four decades earlier, Angus brings it up:
     "Tell me, have you heard these stories about the younger members ?" I asked. The subject had been making me nervous ever since the Norwegian ambassador had told me over lunch a few weeks earlier that current members were spiking women's drinks with liquid ecstasy.
       But the prince deflects and there's no follow-up -- and Hans doesn't witness anything like that when he's first at the Club, so maybe there's not that much to the story ..... Or maybe there is, and Würger just likes getting to the meat of the matter in a roundabout but not too subtle way .....
       There's a club-within-the-club at the Pitt, the Butterflies, which is even harder to get into. Limited to the boxing crowd, it only has five active -- in school -- members at a time, and they identify themselves with a variation on the official club bow tie. Hans is in the running for a place -- but he has to prove himself in the big boxing tournament with Oxford and win his bout. Then he can become one of the select -- and then he can find out what the select are up to, and what their crimes may be .....
       As soon becomes clear, not only is Alex damaged, but so is Charlotte. Her damage, and who inflicted it, is more recent and easier to follow up on -- but eventually Alex's is revealed too; unsurprisingly there's a connection (or two ...). Drawn to Charlotte, Hans sees that wrongs have been committed, and wants to see justice is served; to do so, he has to go along with a lot: he can't be avenging angel, but rather has to sink into the corrupt morass to get to the bottom of it -- but on the other hand, the information he provides is all Alex and Charlotte need to set their plans for exacting justice into motion.
       It all works super-neatly. And, as throughout, extra-judicially: the authorities are rarely involved here, beyond picking up some of the pieces. Practically no one goes to the police -- "They can't help us", Alex dismissively tells Hans, and already early on shows she prefers taking matters into her own hands -- and they're pretty much only there to pick up the pieces and do some clean-up work. So also in a major part of the resolution:
     "We don't need a judge," said Alex. "I know the editor-in-chief of the biggest newspaper in the country. That's enough."
       The privileged getting away with whatever they want is a rather unfortunate message in The Club, as not only the perpetrators but also the victims are super-well-connected; just like the perpetrators, they can do what they want and, in looking for revenge, operate no less outside the bounds of the law than the bad guys; the fact that pretty much everyone is damaged somewhere along the way also makes for an odd aftertaste. So also, it's hard to imagine even Alex or Charlotte finding true relief or satisfactions (beyond at a very basic level), much less any sense of peace of mind, in the final outcome. And then there's cipher Hans, who is basically used as a tool, snuck into Cambridge under an assumed identity, and without much thought being given to his future. Würger's resolution neatly (if very messily, too) sees 'justice' done, but it also feels rather convenient -- perhaps a dangerous attitude to take with such a hot-button topic that rarely allows for such easy satisfactions in its wake.
       Würger lacks subtlety, but he does have a light, easy touch. The different narrative voices help, especially the secondary ones -- the boxers and club-members and wannabes, and their different obsessions (and obliviousness). Occasionally Würger tries to make too many connections -- ambitious Chinese student Peter, desperate to get in the Pitt, is an amusing figure (and his entries are amusingly presented), and there is a nice moment when he bumps into old man Farewell, but does he really have to be a language study-partner of Charlotte's ? (Peter also contacts the prince whom Angus talked to at the party -- arguably plausibly, yet contributing to the rather ingrown feel of the novel where everything has to connect.)
       There's rather limited depth to The Club -- perhaps appropriate where most of the characters (university kids, after all) are rather shallow (or, in Hans' case, essentially entirely empty) -- but that stands at uncomfortable odds with the unacceptable conduct that Würger is tackling, and all too easily dispenses with. There are hints of looking for explanations behind some of conditions that allow for this to happen -- at one Pitt Club gathering the invited women are only allowed three items of clothing (and: "Shoes and earrings counted as items of clothing") and Hans does wonder: "Everyone was observing the rules. What was actually wrong with these women ?" -- but basically Würger doesn't examine why the (continued) existence of such institutions (and that extends beyond just the Pitt, to Cambridge itself, and to the whole entitled old-boys system) is possible.
       Somewhat disappointingly -- though presumably it makes for an easier fast and gripping read -- practically everything in The Club is elemental. Hence also the reliance on boxing, as elemental as it gets (though Würger of course lays some claims for how cerebral it is -- including having Hans think: "I knew that boxing matches were won in the mind, at least that was what people said"). Officialdom, however, -- down to the university authorities, who apparently are willing to let anyone into Cambridge if they have the right connections -- isn't of much use to anyone here; instead, everything is settled by variations of going mano a mano.
       This down to (mostly physical) basics does make for a decent read, Würger offering fast-paced variety and several layers of mysteries too. Though, on any closer examination, pretty thin, The Club feels meaty enough for the duration; the treatment of the subject matter -- crimes and retribution -- does, however, leave a rather bad aftertaste: justice may be done, but if this sort of wreckage be justice .....

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 March 2019

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The Club: Reviews: Takis Würger: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Takis Würger was born in 1985.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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