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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Die Spange

Michel Mettler

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To purchase Die Spange

Title: Die Spange
Author: Michel Mettler
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 349 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Die Spange - Deutschland
  • Die Spange has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : wildly creative but goes in a lot of directions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 16/3/2006 Andreas Rosenfelder
NZZ . 9/3/2006 Roman Bucheli

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dieser aberwitzige Plot wirkt fast so, als habe Kafka eine Zahnersatzzusatzversicherung abgeschlossen. Und wirklich rollt Anton Windl den eigenen Fall im nüchternen, fast bürokratischen Stil eines Sachgutachtens auf. Doch es geht hier nicht einfach um einen Bericht für eine Akademie, sondern darum, im empfindlichen Mundgewebe eine Lebensgeschichte freizulegen. Auch wenn sich anfangs der Verdacht regt, die Praxis schwebe in einem literarischen Niemandsland ohne Außenraum: Im Verlauf der ärztlichen Anamnese, die für die Einordnung des Fundes von Bedeutung ist, steht auch die Persönlichkeitsentwicklung des Patienten auf dem Prüfstand." - Andreas Rosenfelder, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Die grandiose Lächerlichkeit, mit der hier die Zahnspange und ihre beiden Heroen eine literarische Nobilitierung erfahren, wird denn auch mit boshaft ironischen Nebengeräuschen effektvoll begleitet. Eine Satire also ? Das auch, aber längst nicht nur. Denn überdies erweist sich die Spange geradezu als Chiffre für das poetische Prinzip dieses Romans. Sie hält als kompositorische Klammer das Widerstrebende, das Disparate, das Dissonante des Romans im Innersten zusammen." - Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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:

       Michel Mettler's exuberant novel is, if nothing else, fearless in its ambition. There's almost a torrent of ideas, and considerable ambition regarding the presentation as well -- while all the while the language of the account is precisely controlled.
       'Die Spange' ('the brace', or 'the retainer') of the title is the framing device of the novel (with an emphasis on the device): when his physician, Dr. Berg, sends him to a dentist to get to the root of various complaints that have long been bothering young Anton Windl the doctor makes a remarkable discovery in his mouth: some sort of growth or device. It proves of more archaeological than medical interest because -- despite being what looks like the remnants of some sort of orthodontical device -- it is, in fact, ancient, a five thousand year old relic.
       The dentist calls in specialists, and Anton is soon more research subject than patient. Despite the scientifically precise descriptions, Mettler isn't bound by strict realism: Everest-like expeditions are launched into the mouth, the mystery-object differently described, and a whole possible mythology built up around it. Anton is a specimen, a laboratory animal -- relatively passively accepting his role, putting up with all that's done to him even as the experiments take over his life.
       The mystery-object isn't the sole point of interest. Anton suffers from "Erzählschwäche", too, an inability to tell stories (indeed, to narrate in any extended form) -- as if missing vital parts of both memory and imagination. Among the attempts at therapy is a a refrigerator-like device (in which he is supposed to sit) that's meant to help free the stories in his mind. (In a rare act of both curiosity and rebellion Anton goes behind the doctor's back and peeks at the inner workings (which turn out to be rather dubious), undermining the device's therapeutic value.)
       The orthodontic theme is followed through, too, throughout the book, the idea of something that is natural being forced into what is deemed the correct place (in this case teeth, but in the wider sense absolutely everything). Mettler's variations on the theme are ingenious, from historic re-imaginings of the history and uses of orthodontia to tortuous devices (including pre-braces, designed to fix what isn't even there yet).
       Die Spange is a send up of science -- of all attempts to explain every- and anything, and of fitting observation to theory -- as well as of standards that all are expected to meet. It also explores story-telling and self-exploration -- as it turns out that, for example, Anton's first-person narrative may, in fact, be his doctor's version of events (yet another attempt to get at the story behind the given (or at least apparent) facts).
       Mind-boggling but well done, and if occasionally frustrating an ultimately winning experiment.

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Die Spange: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Michel Mettler was born in 1966.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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