Author: Patrick Suskind
Translation: Anthea Bell
Publisher: Text Publishing
Date Published: 2006
In this inspiring meditation, Patrick Suskind considers the two great forces of human existence. He draws scenes as varied as a young couple having oral sex while stuck in traffic, and an elderly Thomas Mann tumbling back into forbidden love. Suskind then dazzles as he writes about Orpheus and Jesus, comparing their very different stories of death conquered through love.
‘On Love And Death’ is written by Patrick Suskind, author of the notable novel ‘Perfume: Story of a Murderer’ which I have recently discovered and currently worship. When I finished ‘Perfume’, I was quick to research the author and decided that reading his essays on love and death would be a worthy endeavour given his deft handling of notions in the before mentioned fiction.
‘On Love And Death’ is short – very short. It took me an hour to read. There are only 90 pages in this tiny sized book and the font is enormous (even the margins are large!). I have discovered a passion for short books (I have fallen in love with the novella), as I’m beginning to see huge monoliths as a sign of the author’s inability to get to the point succinctly and skillfully. So I will admit that I opened ‘On Love And Death’ with fairly high expectations.
As touted by the blurb, Jesus and Orpheus are the main historical ‘love/death’ references. Suskind offers what I will hesitantly call an interesting retelling of the Lazarus revival of the New Testament (his dislike of Jesus is very clear) and a beautiful rendition of Orpheus’s struggle whilst climbing back towards Earth with Eurydice in tow. However, these tales and the conclusions drawn from them are in the latter half of the book.
Suskind references a number of German figures that might be unknown outside of their native country (most people will be aware of Goethe and Kleist though). This is not a bad move (I hate it when people won’t broaden their understanding by learning about new historical figures), however it means that the references made will have to be researched for full understanding of Suskind’s points. I get the impression that Suskind wrote this for a German audience and other nationalities were a second thought (and rightly so, it is arrogant to assume that American/English audiences are the most important). Goethe and Kleist are included for their famous erotic longing for suicide and some interesting points are drawn from this.
If I could summarise it in one word I would choose ‘pointless’. This is a harsh choice, yet it keeps coming to mind. Given the wealth of fiction and non fiction dedicated to the concepts of love and death, which even the blurb describes as ‘the two great forces of human existence’, Suskind’s attempt to discuss them are vague and random. Perhaps they are too big to discuss and Suskind thought better to simply add his observations to the literary pool without biting off more than he could chew. This leaves the reader feeling a little underwhelmed, rather than angry. On the other hand, it did serve a purpose – I had a debate with my boyfriend about the comparisons between Jesus and Orpheus.
‘On Love And Death’ could be better described as the observational conclusions drawn from a few case studies, rather than an ‘inspiring meditation’. It is perplexing because it is not really bad or good, just odd. I wouldn’t recommend avoiding this book, however it doesn’t seem to be worth actively seeking out either.
♥♥ – 2/5