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The best read in lockdown
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Editions
August 09 Edition Cover

Critic – November 2020

04 Nov 2020

The best read in lockdown

By Rhonda Dredge

Ryll has a visionary mind that Kehlmann uses to avoid clunky endings to the hero’s dilemmas and Her Highness is a wonderful negotiator who, even though she has nothing to give, works on

the expectations of diplomats by threatening to retract her demand if it is not met. There’s nothing like following a good story through its twists and turns, and City of Melbourne librarians have been busy over the lockdown period checking out the range of fiction released in 2020.

The Bildungsroman, a classic German form of story that has never gone out of fashion, is on the library list.

Traditionally, a young hero leaves home to learn a few of life’s difficult lessons away from prying eyes.

On the way he meets a range of characters who both help and hinder him, with adversity being a measure of the story’s strength and emotional appeal.

Tyll, by Daniel Kehlmann, is the latest ver- sion of this eternal story and, surprisingly, an English princess by the name of Liz is the hero’s most loyal supporter rather than his German countrymen.

The action takes place in middle-Europe in the 1600s, predominantly in scary, magic infested woods and the hungry villages that surround them. When a villager is hanged, his last meal is the best food he’s ever eaten.

Tyll is forced out of his village as a boy to become a performer who makes his living by learning how to turn a trick on market day.

By the end of this clever novel, Tyll can juggle swords, break out of a caved-in mine, withstand torture, survive a night in the forest and raise a troupe of musicians.

“All these people,” his teacher tells him, “are in the travelling trades. Anyone who robs or kills them is not prosecuted. That is the price of freedom.”

The novel makes a strong argument in favour of the truth of theatre. Liz, who was raised as a princess in England on the finest of performances, is in mourning for the standards across the Channel when she marries into German royalty.

“On the stage people were themselves, completely free, fully transparent,” she reminds herself. “In real life no-one spoke in soliloquies. Everyone kept his thoughts to himself, faces could not be read, everyone dragged the dead weight of their secrets.”

She, however, puts on a fine performance by parodying court protocol that wins her a new territory after her husband Friedrich loses his kingdom of Bohemia.

Both Ryll and the queen have been exiled from their rightful inheritances by warring Christian factions and they are forced to give up all thought of revenge.

The Thirty Years’ War was not a time in his- tory to be taking uncalculated risks.

The book illustrates through story some of the roles still prevalent in our culture – comedians, politicians and clergy, in descending order of merit.

Knowledge is far more important than infor- mation and there are some sublime scenes in this novel that show just that at work.

Ryll has a visionary mind that Kehlmann uses to avoid clunky endings to the hero’s dilemmas and Her Highness is a wonderful negotiator who, even though she has nothing to give, works on the expectations of diplomats by threatening to retract her demand if it is not met.

The novel is regarded by one City of Melbourne librarian as the best read by far during his 2020 lockdown.

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