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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Safety Net (1979) by Heinrich Boll


Book Review
The Safety Net (1979)
by Heinrich Boll

    Man, I am KNEE DEEP into Henrich Boll oeuvre and I still don't have a firm grasp on him.  For example, I picked up this three hundred page book, and noticed that it had a two page long "cast of characters" in the front, before the novel starts, and I thought, "Hmm, that's certainly odd for a 300 page novel written in late 1970's.  But, as it turns out, The Safety Net is written from a variety of perspectives, not just within chapters, but between chapters.

  Although typically described in American reviews as a novel about surveillance and the state, the foreword by Salman Rushdie takes pain to note the comparisons to the real life events surrounding the Baader Meinhof Gang.   I happen to have read a recently written factual account of the Baader Meinhof Gang, and I noticed the similarities between those events and some of the events discussed by the characters in this book.   As I write this, I'm still unclear what the "Association," whom the main character is the recently elected Chairman of, actually did.  I guess it's supposed to be some sort of capitalist Illuminati conspiracy but that element was muted, with an emphasis on the day-to-day emotions of the Chairman and his extended family, and the impact that constant protective surveillance has on their lives.

The Safety Net is also the only one of four Boll titles to be removed at the first revision.  I get that, I literally didn't understand what was happening until I remembered the cast of characters, then I had to leaf back and forth to make sense of the variety of constantly shifting narrators.   I'm always up for a meta-fictional challenge, but the narrative pay-off didn't seem to equal the amount of time invested for such a short book.  Still, there's no denying the formal sophistication of Boll's method, and the relevance of the themes to this day.  The Safety Net actually might be more relevant today then it was in 1979.

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