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Decompression – Juli Zeh Review

Decompression – Juli Zeh Review

decompression-juli-zehReleased: May 2014

Sven and his partner Antje have run a successful diving school on the remote side of Lanzarote for the last 14 years – he as the diving instructor, she as the practical business side of operations. They enjoy their peaceful, hermit-like life away from their home country of Germany and there was no reason for it to ever be disrupted.

That is until beautiful, famous soap star Jola and her partner Theo, a grumpy middle-aged author suffering writer’s block, arrive for two weeks of exclusive diving tuition. Jola is trying to break into the film industry and is paying extortionate rates for Sven to prepare her for a lead role in a new film about underwater photographer and model Lotte Hass. However, Jola and Theo seem intent on killing each other before their return to Berlin, and their violent and volatile relationship gets progressively out of hand as the trip continues, regularly in front of Sven. As the diving instructor struggles to resist Jola’s sirenesque seductions, a vicious love triangle develops and Sven finds himself a pawn in their malfunctioning relationship.

The most intriguing element of this novel is that we have two unreliable narrators whose accounts clash more severely the deeper the reader investigates, and we are left to speculate the truth ourselves. Although Sven tells the main of the story, Jola’s diary offers an alternative viewpoint for almost every incident. For readers familiar with the postmodernist theme of unreliable narration, this may be quite unsettling and confusing at times. Combined with the fact that at points it is obvious that the story has been translated from German – especially where detailed imagery is used – it is easy to be distracted from what should be gripping drama.

Zeh also appears to have a preoccupation with Germanic social anxieties and the strong desire to escape her strict nationality, reflected in the characters of Sven and Antje and raised at every opportunity. Although at first this offers an interesting comment on present German social psychology, it seems forced by the end of the novel and has no place in the final drama.

This is the sort of novel that will probably end up on reading lists for English postmodernism modules at universities in the near future, but unless you’re an English graduate who enjoys figuring out unreliable narrators, or a reader with a penchant for German social psychology, this probably isn’t the book for you.


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