First sadness, then anger: Ruth’s husband had died in the accident, and soon after his death she found out that Ludwig had a mistress. The narrator of Doris Knecht’s new novel, Die Nachrichten, is still suffering three years after this double misfortune because she has never been able to speak to Ludwig. He cannot draw a mental dividing line. Looking back, she is still looking for the decisive moments of the crisis, especially since she herself wanted to part with Ludwig. But Ruth didn’t want to give up on a fragile patchwork family where each had had one child from her previous relationships. She stayed with her husband, who had long since fallen in love with another woman.
Now Ruth is a single working mother. Not only does she have a confusing past, she also has to deal with a difficult day-to-day life when she gets plagued one day by anonymous messaging via messenger. At first, he doesn’t take this news seriously. But then the short texts become “more insulting, hateful, threatening”. Instead of going to the police, she tries to ignore her stalker, which makes her harder and harder. Because messages that are constantly being sent from new addresses now contain surprisingly intimate information.
Part of the Austrian writer’s literary art is to develop a story from an initially solvable problem that creates an incredible attraction. Throughout her literary career, Knecht has perfected a style that reveals the breathlessness and fragility of her characters: mesmerizing long sentences and short sentence prose are intertwined in audacious vocabulary. The narrative concern with which the author also devotes herself to supporting characters, which nevertheless refer to the main plot of the story, is striking. Ruth’s sincere childhood friend Wolf, who suffers from cancer, refuses to take life-saving therapy and does not want Ruth to have a mother for him. The narrator must learn that she, who suffers from hate messages, is also vulnerable to attacks with good intentions.
[Doris Knecht: Die Nachricht. Roman. Hanser Berlin, Berlin 2021. 256 Seiten, 22 €]
Knecht’s sad heroines are not ideas, but genuine in the best sense of the word. As a rule, they are ambiguous, such as, for example, the child psychologist Simon Brunner, with whom Ruth soon falls in love after a chance meeting. Sex with him is not only exciting, the man even helps her deal with the messenger’s messages. But a man spoiled by success is also a bit scary, he apparently knows perfectly well when he needs to figure out which rhetorical marker to achieve his not only erotic goals. It also starts a bad game of closeness and distance. Sometimes he is there and then he disappears again, which bothers Ruth again – this very confident writer indeed. Once again, she seems to be caught up in a violent relationship, even if it doesn’t seem so at first.
Ruth finds solace in her playmate
It wasn’t until later that Ruth realized that Simon was constantly pushing boundaries, that he was even using attacks from the Internet: “The news was a kind of binding medium between us, it gave us a reason to stay in touch, make an appointment. But Simon also likes to cancel dinner at short notice. over time, for reasons that “the more times they sounded weaker”.
Perhaps Ruth would have been more careful if she hadn’t been worried about contacting Ludwig’s former lover, Valerie. If anyone has a reason to write anonymously, this is a former competitor! The e-mail wasteland that both women exchange is unstoppable, yet it is one of the highlights of the novel. Instead of threatening Valerie with legal action or even verbally slapping her, Ruth even sympathizes with the woman. It’s all the more terrifying when it turns out that Valerie can’t be behind digital attacks.
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“News” is not just about cyberbullying. Doris Knecht looks very fundamentally at the toxic language that is expressed in anonymous messages as well as in non-verbal communication in married relationships. The lack of speech in Ruth’s marriage probably also led to her husband turning to his lover. It is also no coincidence that the betrayed hero writes scripts. The bitter point of her story is that she, who comes up with lines of conflict for TV movies, might have known better. However, in times of emotional weakness, the necessary protective mechanisms against manipulative force appear weak.
Eventually, Ruth will taint the perpetrator with a minor detail of dialect, which is important to the broken self-confidence of a sensitive language worker. The “Message” can be read as an appropriate thematic book or a veritable thriller with a depressing ending. But the story gets interesting because of the deeper narrative layers to be discovered beyond the plot and behind the apparent emotional confusion of the first-person narrator.