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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Allmen and the Dragonflies

Martin Suter

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To purchase Allmen and the Dragonflies

Title: Allmen and the Dragonflies
Author: Martin Suter
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 186 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Allmen and the Dragonflies - US
Allmen and the Dragonflies - UK
Allmen and the Dragonflies - Canada
Allmen and the Dragonflies - India
Allmen et les libellules - France
Allmen und die Libellen - Deutschland
Allmen e le libellule - Italia
  • German title: Allmen und die Libellen
  • Translated by Steph Morris

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Our Assessment:

B+ : light but charming

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 4/1/2011 Hannes Hintermeier
Le Monde . 23/6/2011 Pierre Deshusses
NZZ . 31/12/2010 Roman Bucheli
Tages-Anzeiger . 31/12/2010 Martin Halter

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Sprache ist gewohnt schlicht, adjektivarm mit kurzen Sätzen und ebensolchen Dialogen. (...) Martin Suter skizziert die Welt der Zürcher Oberschicht, zeigt Goldküstenexistenzen, die Wein für 1400 Franken die Flasche konsumieren, Gefangene in einer Welt des Reichtums oder eben nur Reichtumsdarsteller. In diesem Milieu kennt der Autor sich aus, diese Welt bewirtschaftet er fiktional seit Jahren erfolgreich." - Hannes Hintermeier, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Suter fait preuve d'un charme tout aussi savoureux que celui de son héros quand il recourt aux conventions du genre, ce qui n'enlève rien à l'intérêt de l'intrigue, bien au contraire." - Pierre Deshusses, Le Monde

  • "Martin Suter ist kein Stilist, und seine Bücher sprühen nicht vor sprachlichen Subtilitäten. Bei der Wahl der Adjektive ist er so unzimperlich wie einfallslos, Wiederholungen kümmern ihn wenig, und lieber sind ihm Dialoge als atmosphärische Wolkenschieberei. Aber er hat ein untrügliches Gespür für Komposition und Spannungsaufbau; er lässt seine Figuren zwei, drei Sätze sagen oder ein paar Handbewegungen machen, und schon treten sie in schönster Anschaulichkeit hervor; und er entwickelt seinen Plot bald zügig, bald in aufreizender Gemächlichkeit. So beschert einem diese Lektüre zwei, drei Stunden gruslige Gemütlichkeit" - Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Allmen und die Libellen ist kein Krimi im klassischen Sinne, eher eine hübsche kleine (kaum zweihundert sehr grosszügig gedruckte Seiten) Gaunerkomödie. Mit spürbarem Behagen beschreibt Suter, wie der notorisch klamme Dandy und sein treues Faktotum am Rande der Legalität Gerechtigkeit schaffen. (...) Man liest das Buch trotzdem gern: Suter schreibt so lässig und ironisch elegant, wie Allmen lebt." - Martin Halter, Tages-Anzeiger

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:

       Allmen and the Dragonflies is the first in a series, a not-quite-mystery featuring a man whose father made a lot of money -- not much of which is left:

His friends called him John, and he introduced himself to new people simply and modestly as Allmen. But on official documents he was called Johann Friedrich von Allmen.
       Allmen is no authentic aristocrat -- "It was a very common family name" -- but, supported by his completely indulgent father, he got a taste for the high life and, despite burning through his inheritance, he hasn't quite been able to give that up: "luxury was one of Allmen's greatest weaknesses". This makes him quite the 'character', and Suter milks it for all its worth.
       Allmen really has pretty much lost it all (and it was a lot ...). Among his few clever decisions was to insist on the lifetime right to live in the gardener's cottage when he was forced to sell his grand villa, so at least he has a roof over his head (and, nominally, a very fine address, still). He also convinced the foundation that bought the house to hire his Guatemalan gardener, Carlos, as caretaker -- allowing him to keep the man more or less as his butler, on the side, without being responsible for his wages.
       If Allmen doesn't quite live in the grandest style at home any longer, he does so in every other way. He still has his opera subscription -- affordable because he sold the second seat to a friend -- and doesn't shrink back from the necessary public expenditures, in order to keep up the proper appearances. He owes money left and right -- but:
     However badly Allmen managed money, he was extremely good at managing debt.
       Now, however, someone he owes a rather large sum to -- over twelve thousand Swiss francs -- is demanding repayment in full, in short order. Of course, Allmen doesn't have anywhere near that amount on hand, or within any sort of reach.
       Indeed, Allmen's only source of income is selling off valuables -- and since he doesn't really have any of his own left, he's become a clever, elegant, gentleman-thief. The fact that he has a good spiel in getting his hands on some very fine goods doesn't make his dirty business any more palatable, but Allmen doesn't seem to feel too guilty about it. An antiques dealer friend is willing to pay him for the goods, and Allmen does need the cash.
       A night at the opera finds a wealthy divorcée, Joëlle, getting her claws into Allmen, and dragging him home. He hopes to slip out quietly during the night, but as he tries to escape he makes an interesting discovery: five glassware bowls with dragonfly motifs, clearly by Émile Gallé. And he steals one.
       The theft is of a different sort from his usual modus operandi, but it's too good an opportunity to pass up: the bowl should easily fetch enough to allow him to pay off his debts. And Allmen seems to be successful, quickly selling it off to his dealer-friend, and, briefly, rolling in cash. But things work out differently this time: the dealer winds up shot, and when Allmen finds himself back at Joëlle's, the bowl -- or a very similar one -- is back with the others ..... Which doesn't stop him from then taking the lot .....
       Allmen comes to realize -- with help from Carlos -- what he's gotten himself into, and eventually he comes up with a plan to get himself out of it. And, yes, enrich himself in the process.
       Allmen and the Dragonflies is all Allmen, and all his absurd lifestyle -- an insistence on the comforts of the high life and keeping up, in public, appearances, and a lack of concern about most threatening hardships (though when there's actual danger he is quite sensibly cautious). He spends freely, even when he can't really afford it -- both for the pleasures, and to maintain his standing -- and he always tips well. And it works out quite well for him. Factotum Carlos pretends there's never anything out of the ordinary, adding to the amusing, surreal feel of it all. Life isn't serious here, play-acting will do.
       Even the serious -- his friend getting killed, the danger he puts himself in -- is treated rather lightly -- perhaps, in the case of the one (rather improbable) act of violence Allmen suffers (the opening scene, which the novel only returns to and fully explain later in the story) too exaggeratedly so
       Allmen and the Dragonflies is almost all fluff -- but it's elegant and quite charming fluff, Suter's simple presentation of Allmen's carefree and absurd approach to life rather endearing. It's not all that much of a mystery -- though it does set the stage for Allmen's future (he already imagines a business card where he offers his services in "International Enquiries") -- but Suter's command over Allmen's milieu, Allmen's appreciation for the finer things in life (and a good book -- Allmen is a big reader), and his supportive, completely deadpan sidekick, Carlos, make for an enjoyable quick, light read.
       (The bowls that figure in the novel are based on a real case, by the way, the 2004 theft of fifteen works by Gallé from the Château de Gingins.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 May 2018

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Allmen and the Dragonflies: Reviews: Other books by Martin Suter under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Martin Suter was born in 1948.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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