three pairs of lovers with space

A REVIEW OF COUSIN COUSIN BY WALTER FOELSKE

 

Cousin Cousin, a novel by Walter Foelske (1934-2015) was published in German only in 1997.

 

A Fourteen-year-old’s Coming Out

Mir geht nichts über mich! (Nothing exceeds myself!) This axiom of Stirner's could have been the motto for the novel Cousin Cousin by Walter Foelske. In any case, it could have been the motto of Konrad, a 14-year-old, ravishingly beautiful boy who has moved from Hamburg to Cologne with his 13-year-old sister Gudrun and their parents Franz and Lies Lamberti, owners of a large plumbing firm. At the beginning of the book, there is a housewarming party going on at the big new house they've just moved into. That’s where it all begins. What begins? A wildly crazy love story – but we'll get around to that in good time.

In Cologne Gudrun and Konrad have a ‘beautiful’ cousin: Rudolf, in his early twenties, the son of Ruth, Lies's sister. He’s the very picture of a man, the dream of anyone who loves men - for instance, Konrad, who already has a vague suspicion that he just might be homosexual. In any case, it's love at first sight when the two cousins see each other for the first time – for Rudolf too. He however pushes aside the alien feeling. After all, he is engaged to Anna, whom he has known since early childhood, a love affair that goes way back but is barely still smouldering. Anna is the daughter of Oskar Rosellen, a retired prosecuting attorney, who turns out to be a pedophile and a Thailand expert. She immediately realizes that something's not right here, and she joins battle with the scamp for Rudolf s love.

To recount the whole story would be outside the scope of this book review, because it is a damnedly complicated tale, a dizzying whirlwind of emotions - not only for the two cousins, but also for all of the characters around them. Just one more thing, though: they are all delightfully unconventional, and it would appear that the author Walter Foelske (whose work we've gotten to know recently from his novel Im Wieserfleck and his two collections of short stories, Glıettos - recently reprinted - and Das innere Zimmer) has coolly shaken all our taboo subjects up thoroughly with each other for the fun of it, to present us with this provocative, intoxicating structure with a wink.

Let's just look at the high points. The first (and also absolute) high point is a grandiose love scene between Konrad and Rudolf filling countless pages. I've never read anything like it: poetic, ecstatic and erotic, without becoming pornographic, a feast for the senses and at the same time much more than that, a wedding of body and spirit, not reduced to prick and ass, but celebrating sexuality for what it is, celestial, paradisiacal, a hosanna not in an abstract angelic atmosphere but concrete here below. Body to body, with everything that comes with them: sweat, blood, muscles, bones and tendons; you can't retell it, you have to read it - and I am convinced that gay literature is here the richer by a tremendous chapter!

But the turbulent entanglements around Rudolf go further and grow into a pointblank tug-of-war between 'normal' petit bourgeois society and Konrad, the real hero of the book, who fıghts for Rudolf with all of his fresh boyish passion – while Rudolf, that idiot, lets himself be dragged back to Anna again by his family after the night of love. Here, in the shape of 'beloved' family members, society shows its true face, and with this Foelske also succeeds in exposing it in all its duplicity, hypocrisy and underhandedness: satire, tragicomedy, farce and puppet theatre all in one.

The next high point doesn't take place in reality, but in Konrad's head, against the background of an exhibition of paintings in Morsbroich Castle: a slapstick fantasy of revenge, in reaction to the fact that people want to deprive him of that which is for him the most important, dearest and best thing in his life: Rudolf.

The end of the story, which leaves behind a sort of battlefield of the passions, remains open. The reader too is left behind, breathless and enriched by new experiences, after reading this novel, which far surpasses all common coming-out stories. After his until now rather more gloomy books, Foelske has succeeded in writing a sort of comedy novel, one that I read with great pleasure and most heartily recommend.

 

Reviewed by Reinhard Knoppka in Koinos (Amikejo Foundation, Amsterdam) No. 16, 4th quarter 1997, pp. 31-32.