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Novel set in Berlin

3rd August 2022

Berlin by Bea Setton, novel set in Berlin.

Novel set in Berlin

If you have ever been to Berlin, you will fully recognise and appreciate the city as it is described in this novel. The narrative is set mainly in the Neukölln and Kreuzberg districts, which form an authentic backdrop to Daphne’s story as she navigates her new world. She has arrived in Berlin after studying at Oxford but her recent foray into academia has been a disaster and new horizons beckon.

Ostensibly she is the the city to learn German, supported by money from her parents, with whom she currently has no contact. She joins the hoards of people who live there, with no apparent job and no obvious income, and therefore she is free – other than her course commitments – to craft a lifestyle that suits her. And invent a job and make things up.

We certainly soon learn that she is economical with the truth and she has a complicated relationship with food.  She runs an excessive amount out in the countryside, around the Tempelhofer Feld and on to the Volkspark Hasenheide. She raids her friends’ larders and fridges but often spurns a rounded meal made with the care of friendship. It gradually becomes clear that she is not comfortable in her own skin and her jumpy character is pitched into panic when a stone is thrown through the window of the apartment she is renting. She finds another rental flat and moves into a curated space that feels holistic and calm but, given her personality, she soon disrupts the aura.

She dates men, she parties (sort of), she runs. Yet somehow her connection to life seems tenuous, she is plagued by feelings of low self worth and, at times, ingrained disgust. Given her character, she should be a shoe in to this cosmopolitan city, where people can largely be true to their own nature and have the freedom to express themselves. As her dim awareness of her part in the whole story starts to dawn, the tension ratchets up. Early in the novel, she starts out as being an unloveable, self absorbed character but as the reader explores her life and her brush with the city, she tugs on the heart strings – the transition is deftly handled by the author who astutely describes a tormented woman.

There is the occasional laugh-out-loud moment which stops the narrative from becoming depressing. There is wonderful insight into the city and there are some footnotes to explain the German phrases when they aren’t obvious and offer insight into some of the quirks of the city. The author captures the frantic, split and schizophrenic nature of the city – on some days Daphne “… loves everything about Berlin. Even the trash, the the broken vacuum cleaners and toilet brushes and Häagen-Dazs cartons seemed fun and festive. On those days I wouldn’t have a word said against Berliners.” On other days, with a change of wind, her perspective of the city would change. She says “..I felt as if I’d been drunk and was finally sobering up.. I detested Berlin then and could only see how poor and wrecked it was. I noticed all the horrible collaterals of human life…”

I certainly feel I have been on a visit to Berlin and doubly so, because I read it whilst in the city, when I could almost imagine tall, blond Daphne passing me in the street. A great novel for literary travel!

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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