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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Game of Cards

Adolf Schröder

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To purchase The Game of Cards

Title: The Game of Cards
Author: Adolf Schröder
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 143 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Game of Cards - US
The Game of Cards - UK
The Game of Cards - Canada
La partie de cartes - France
Das Kartenspiel - Deutschland
  • German title: Das Kartenspiel
  • Translated by Andrew Brown

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Our Assessment:

B : solid foundations, but the narrative mix is too forced

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 22/5/2002 Martin Ebel
New Statesman . 28/2/2008 Ben Coren

  From the Reviews:
  • "So geht jeder Gesprächsversuch in diesem Buch ins Leere. Das zu lesen ist mühsam und quälend. Denn Adolf Schröder setzt seinerseits die Leser einer Behandlung aus, die die Vermutung nahelegt, auch sie hätten eine Läuterung nötig. Er arbeitet mit abrupten Zeiten- und Schauplatzwechseln, plaziert Einschübe und Unterbrechungen in einzelne Absätze, ja in die Sätze selbst und erzeugt dadurch eine Art Rütteleffekt, der jedes Sicheinlassen auf Geschehen oder Figuren verhindert. Ganz wie sein verstörtes Personal klammert sich der Autor an Alltagshandlungen fest, zählt sie in allen Einzelheiten und Zwischenschritten auf, als böten sie einen Halt in diesem haltlosen Leben." - Martin Ebel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The climactic revelation, with its link to a dark period in German history, is predictable, and some will be irritated that this essentially straightforward story is told in such a convoluted, even contrived fashion. Yet Schröder’s masterful control of pace, teasing slow-reveal of information and finely attuned eye for detail are enough to let him get away with it. Just." - Ben Coren, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Markus Hauser is in his early twenties, and has pretty much stopped even going through the motions of being a university student. In The Game of Cards he goes -- apparently yet again -- to the local student job centre, looking for a temporary job. The gig he's offered doesn't pay well -- ten marks per hour, for light office work -- but he'll take it.
       The employer is Selma Bruhns, and what she wants Markus to do is put letters in order, chronologically. The novel itself doesn't follow suit: divided into six chapters, for each of the days Markus spends working for her, there's a chronological framework to it, but in each chapter the narrative jumps back and forward. Even the opening of the novel doesn't recount how Markus gets the job, but rather his first (already very unpleasant) encounter with Selma, only then looping back to tell how he got there. Interspersed among the six chapters are also glimpses of the seventh day, when the police interrogate Markus (and a few others).
       It becomes clear that by the end of Markus' week working for her Selma has died. There's also an attaché case with over 100,000 marks in it, and those letters -- all addressed to 'Almut', and all apparently never sent, and telling of going and living abroad, unhappily. And: after putting them in order Selma takes them and burns them. Mysteries, mysteries .....
       Markus' girlfriend wonders, as the reader must:

     "Why do you have to put the letters in order before she burns them," said Christine.
     Markus wished she would shut up.
     "Why does she never leave her house ? Why does she keep all the windows draped ? Why does she let the cats run wild ?"
     Christine paused, but when eventually Markus said quietly: "That's none of our business," she replied: "Oh, really ?" stood up, picked up her briefcase from the kitchen rack and went to the door.
     "What does she want from you ?" she said, pausing at the door. "Sorting out the letters is merely a pretext. Don't go back to her."
       Since the reader knows there's going to be a police investigation (indeed, has been made privy to much of it already), one can at least begin to guess what Selma really wants from Markus (and, to some extent, why).
       It comes down to a game of cards -- again, as it turns out. The game involves two players each drawing a card from the deck, three times. Whoever gets the high card twice wins -- and, as Selma tells Markus in one of the best lines of the book: "I always win".
       The key to the novel lies in that game of cards she played many decades earlier, and it's really not that much of a surprise when the pieces are slowly filled in: that she played with (one can hardly say: against) Almut, or what the stakes were, or what the outcome was. Still, one has to hand it to Schröder, the description of the actual game, and its outcome, right at the end of the novel, still pack a decent punch.
       The presentation of the novel is somewhat awkward, especially as there are no real transitions between the different time-frames, the narrative constantly jumping between them. It allows for a steady drip of clues as to what is going on with Selma, but also feels forced (especially since it's not very smoothly done). The story itself undeniably has some power, in both its parts and the whole, but with some of the additional baggage -- Markus was once institutionalised, Selma had him investigated -- gets muddier than need be.
       Somewhat haunting, there are also quite a few impressive bits in the novel, especially in the exchanges, whether between Selma and Markus or as part of the police investigation. But the 'mystery' is unfolded too artificially -- almost annoyingly so, at times -- making for a relatively simple story far too complicatedly told.
       And, yes, the comparisons to Bernhard Schlink's The Reader are inevitable .....

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The Game of Cards: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Adolf Schröder was born in 1938.

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