24 September 2013

The Master of the Day of Judgment by Leo Perutz

A short but gripping mystery set in the Vienna of Franz-Jozef

This book (148 pages) first published in Austria in 1921, is still a wonderful short read. Perutz weaves a beautifully written mystery story, set among the well-to-do of pre-First World War Austria. At first, one is put of by the comedy and strangeness of manners of aristocratic society in 1909, but the poetry of the book soon takes over.

The focus of the novel is the explanation for a string of suicides and the accusation that the narrator, a wealthy army officer, is morally responsible for one of them. Towards the middle of the book it is hard to believe that there is a rational explanation, but Perutz provides one in the final chapter.

Despite the magic of the text, I was struck by the emptiness of the narrator of the story, Baron von Yosch. Yet, if the explanation of the suicides is the first 'sting-in-the-tail,' the editor's postscript is the second. The narrator is laid bare. Do not on any account read the last page first.

Three nights of in-bed late night reading will finish this novel of psychological analysis, gruesome ingenuity and metaphysical horrors.

PERUTZ, Leo - The Master of the Day of Judgment, Harvill 1994

23 September 2013

German Federal Elections 2013

Andrea Merkel only continues in office after the September 2013 German federal elections because of disunity among the left of centre.

So Angela Merkel has won the German elections by a landslide – or so the media are telling us. It is indeed true that Merkel’s CDU – along with its Bavarian sister party the CSU – have won just under 42 percent of the vote. But under Germany’s system of proportional representation, they are five seats short of an overall majority.

Merkel’s liberal coalition partner, the FDP, failed to re-enter parliament, and a newly formed right-wing eurosceptic party also just failed to reach the five percent threshold, thus leaving Merkel’s party as the only party of the right in the Bundestag.

The SPD scored a miserable 26 percent of the vote, aping Labour’s 2010 General Election performance. The Left Party picked up just under nine percent, losing a quarter of its percentage vote compared with 2009, but taking third place, and pushing the Greens (8,5%) into fourth.

Yet look at the maths. Merkel has 311 seats in the Bundestag. The SPD, Left Party and the Greens together have 319, and seen like that the left side has actually won, yet the Left Party’s commitment to socialist policies makes them untouchable for the SPD and Greens.

So Merkel will carry on - either with a minority administration or with the SPD as its junior coalition partner.