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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Cold Shoulder

Markus Werner

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To purchase Cold Shoulder

Title: Cold Shoulder
Author: Markus Werner
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Cold Shoulder - US
Cold Shoulder - UK
Cold Shoulder - Canada
Le dos tourné - France
Die kalte Schulter - Deutschland
Di spalle - Italia
  • German title: Die kalte Schulter
  • Translated by Michael Hofmann

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effectively understated

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 6/4/1989 Michael Scheffel
Die Zeit . 13/4/1990 Ulrich Horstmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doch nicht die unerhörte Begebenheit, sondern gerade das Gewöhnliche steht im Brennpunkt dessen, was Werner erzählt. Knapp und unaufdringlich beschreibt der Schweizer aus dem Blickwinkel des sympathischen Außenseiters, was unser tägliches Leben bestimmt. (...) Mit seinem Roman führt der Schweizer vor, daß die Wirklichkeit in der Tat schon längst nicht mehr zu verstehen ist. Sein sprachlich sicherer Griff nach einer sich entziehenden Welt aber belegt: Der Versuch, sie zu verstehen, ist immer noch aller Mühe wert." - Michael Scheffel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(E)in Stück Literatur, in dem der Begriff Abschnitt beim Wort genommen wird und der Leser die Zwischenräume selbst zu überbrücken hat. (...) Dieser Mensch, durch dessen unverwandte, verwundert-naive Maleraugen er mitgeblickt hat, sieht und erkennt gerade jenes Naheliegende, das seine angeblich vorausschauenden Mitmenschen nicht wahrhaben wollen." - Ulrich Horstmann, Die Zeit

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:

       Cold Shoulder describes a few days in the life of Moritz Wenk. He's not in full midlife-crisis state, but he's not entirely happy with how he is puttering along as he is about to turn thirty-eight. He admits: "his indecisiveness was starting to get on his nerves".
       Wenk is an artist, but hasn't really established himself; he sells three or four paintings a year, but: "tended to live off casual jobs". His current casual job is painting full-size wooden cutouts of people for display in the windows of a costume sale and hire store. He has a longtime love-interest, dental hygienist Judith, but they haven't gotten married yet; still, they're a well-matched couple, comfortable with one another, and Wenk realizes and tells her: "what I want today is to grow old with you".
       The action in Cold Shoulder is dominated by everyday banality, Wenk puttering around at home, at his job, in the city. The neighbors had invited him to one of their grill-nights, and he has to reciprocate; preparations for the evening, and then the get-together a few days later are a significant part of the story -- but, like most of what happens, really not much out of the ordinary, just something to pay attention to and deal with in everyday life.
       Getting ready for the evening does give Wenk a bit of added purpose, as he undertakes things like cleaning the bathroom. (Swiss punctilliousness apparently necessitating removal of all signs of that ring around the bathtub, etc. when guests are expected.) As with his realization that he wants to spend and end his days with Judith, it energizes him:

Today I'll make order, tomorrow we'll celebrate the summer, the day after tomorrow I'll pull the cover off my canvas, and start over.
       It's no longer a continuation, of a life that's gotten into a rut, but a re-start. In the book's pivotal scene, the slightly hungover morning (well, noon) after they had the guests over, Wenk is all enthusiasm:
When I think that a new life can begin as early as tomorrow, I could whoop with glee. -- So you're sticking to that ? asked Judith. You've got it in writing, he said, are you sad ? -- No, I'm happy, but will I still fit in your new life, or am I going to be marginal in it ? -- You're the crucial thing ! exclaimed Wenk
       Early on, Wenk's evolution as a painter is described:
His pictures had become less and less pictorial, he had systematically expunged everything real from them [.....] (H)e said while it was possible to depict reality, it still couldn't be grasped hold of, which he'd have preferred.
       Werner's slim novel has the appearance of the closely realist, a simple, factual narrative describing events, in part in precise detail. But it's a deceptive sort of realism, a fading in and out of tight focus -- to good effect and ultimately with devastating power when Werner (re)turns to close description of what would seem to be the most banal scenes, grasping for an elusive reality:
Wenk ordered a sandwich and a coffee, they were brought to him at a cost of five sixty. He paid with a ten franc note, and was given four francs forty in change. He left a coupe of coins for the waitress, who thanked him.
       Cold Shoulder seems like a very understated novel, its calm not just at the surface but extending into dark depths. The story seems too simple, too mundane -- until the point that is the actual turning point, itself wonderfully (and horribly) mundane, the smallest of everyday chance occurrences that upends it all.
       Cold Shoulder requires some patience, and the reader's willingness to go along for the ride, even as the outing can seems at first too slow and banal. Part of Werner's point, too, is in not speeding things up: even the turn the story takes doesn't shift it into higher gear -- and it's this restraint which compounds the book's slowly building power. Eschewing the easy, familiar writer's tricks we've come to expect in modern fiction, artificially elevating drama (and the sense of drama), Werner, in insistently remaining true-to-life, crafts what is ultimately a much more resonant story.
       This is the sort of quiet, or quiet-seeming, novel that is easy to overlook -- there's nothing attention-grabbing about it -- and it's probably a hard sell; a shame, because it is a fine small work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 June 2016

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Cold Shoulder: Reviews: Other books by Markus Werner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Markus Werner lived 1944 to 2016.

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