You can find all kinds of things in a landfill site

You can find all kinds of things in a landfill site

Michaela Preiner

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June 2022

At readings, you don't just get an insight into a new book. With luck, you also learn something about the author's personality. Wolf Haas opened a small window for his audience at the Orpheum in Graz to a not ordinary writer's story.

If you have ever wondered who the narrator is who constantly looks over the shoulder of the anti-hero Brenner in Wolf Haas’ crime novels, you should attend a reading by the author himself.

In Graz, the venue for such a reading was moved at short notice from the casemates on the Schlossberg to the Orpheum. The venue on the Schlossberg was difficult to reach by cogwheel railway due to maintenance work. Despite the fading, extended weekend and the heat that had just set in, the hall in the Orpheum was not badly filled. While readings usually take place in bookshops, someone like Wolf Haas actually fills larger halls. On the one hand he has a loyal reading community, on the other hand many know him because of the film adaptations of some of his books. In it, Josef Hader plays Inspector Brenner, who soon leaves the police force and then has to solve many a case on his own.

On the one hand, it is this special character that fascinates the reading public. This grumpy, solitary and at the same time lovable man slips into criminal cases against his will and without doing anything.

In the process, he – like the majority of the audience – has to deal with everyday adversities, which he tries to avoid in a highly unconventional way. On the other hand, it is also the easy-going language that appeals to many. Despite this lightness, profound world problems are discussed en passant, as if they were marginalia. This special mixture guarantees great reading pleasure.

His new novel “Müll”, from which Haas read in Graz, also contains all these factors. He not only lent his voice to the narrator, but one could get the impression that the narrator is a kind of alter ego of Wolf Haas. However, with the paradox that this alter-ego, were it to be brought to life, would not have much in common with the writer himself. For Haas leaves the impression on stage of a calm, level-headed and intellectual person with a high capacity for linguistic expression. His narrator, on the other hand, speaks with umpteen repetitive standing sentences like “You don’t believe that”, “Don’t ask” or “You mustn’t forget one thing” and loves to make comments in sentences without verbs. In “Rubbish”, this slang adapts like a second skin to the characters in it: They are so-called “Mistler” of a Viennese rubbish dump who find a dismembered corpse in their rubbish tubs. There is a reason why Simon Brenner is among them. He works there himself and considers his job to be the best he has ever had. Whether Udo or Mr Nowak, whether the young intern or Brenner himself – Haas succeeds in creating wonderful character studies of men who, as permanent employees of the City of Vienna, know a lot of bosses about them. Nevertheless, they are proud rulers in their working environment, deciding who may or may not deposit manure for free. They keep a watchful eye on the correct placement of waste in the tubs provided for this purpose and that a little tip usually leads to special helpfulness – who is not familiar with this procedure in Austria?

Brenner lives in a chic flat high above the rooftops of the city – but only as a “bed-walker”. As such, he uses empty flats to spend the night, with the noble aim of leaving no trace.

The great art of Wolf Haas is the interlocking of socially relevant themes with a crime story in a language that – although artful – comes across as loose and fluffy, as if he had picked up and written down every sentence in beer-swilling inns or at tent festivals. Whether it’s the rubbish problem or the organ mafia, whether it’s relationship stress or bourgeois ways of life, there seems to be nothing that Haas can’t deal with profoundly and humorously at the same time. At the same time, the tragic story of a man whose body parts ended up in a landfill is served up in easily digestible morsels.

As a surplus, Haas offered the audience of his reading a highly amusing story about the difficulties of translating his texts into Japanese. In “Müll”, translation heads will start to smoke at the latest at the point where “Spuckerl” is the name of a small cleaning trolley that Brenner puts into operation – clearly unauthorised. The scene in which he involuntarily cleans the shoes of hundreds of passers-by in Vienna due to a defect in the vehicle’s spraying system, which cannot be switched off, is not only one of the most humorous in the book. It also shows Haas’s literary skill in making a complete film scene play out in the reader’s mind with just a few sentences.

Conclusion: Readings by Wolf Haas are worthwhile. Reading his books anyway.

This text was translated automatically with

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