With echoes of both Aleksander Hemon and also (Bookmunch favourite) Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life, Heinz Helle’s Superabundance is the kind of debut that comes laden with promise, and the thing about promise is, it’s incumbent on the person telling you about promise to let you know if the book in question delivers on that promise. And the answer, my good friends, is yes. Superabundance marks the arrival of an interesting new voice.
Things to know: Superabundance is a short book but not a book that you will necessarily be able to read quickly. It’s a book in translation (written, we presume, originally in German and translated by Kári Driscoll) so you may have to take the following point with a pinch of salt (we’re always very aware reading literature in translation of Byron’s line about the art of translation as being akin to putting a violet in a crucible), but Helle’s prose is sharp. Short(ish) sentences, oblique images side by side, thoughtful contradictions. You get the sense of a writer looking about him, seeing this, seeing that, connecting and comparing the two.
The book concerns a young man who has moved to New York to work and study, and his relationship with a young woman (and it’s possibly worth adding, his confusion about that relationship, and the city in which he finds himself, and modern life). At times, he is like an alien, perusing each aspect of his day:
“I don’t want to take the lift, so I press the big shiny bar that opens the door into the stairwell. I see steps. I step on the first step. It is made of concrete. It goes clong. The edge is reinforced with a steel strip. I step on the second, third, fourth steps. They also go clong.”
The next, we see him involved (or on the periphery of conversation) concerning Ned Block’s criticism of targetless higher order thoughts.
There is something gloriously disenfranchised about our nameless narrator, his fears, his worries, his anger, his rude, reductive desires. It feels like the kind of a book a young man would write at this point in the history of the world, even as you could just as easily slide it on to the shelf alongside The Sorrows of Young Werther. There’s a sweetness here (as he imagines his lost love, if she is actually lost, in another country) and a blankness (“I take a sip of water. I can feel the cold of the liquid, or rather its non-heat. I can see its non-colour, appreciate its non-form”) and a powerful, visceral feeling, too (“And suddenly I know that each part of my brain in isolation is just as complex and just as boring, just as meaningless and just as beautiful as … dust motes in the light of the projector…”).
Any Cop?: As we’ve said: Superabundance shows promise. We’ll keep our eyes on what Helle does next and keep our fingers crossed that he has more to show us.