An architectural guide to Rome. Talking to Stephen Harby
Novel set in Zurich (a perfect gentleman, Swiss style)
11th October 2017
The Last Weynfeldt by Martin Suter, novel set in Zurich.
Adrian Weynfeldt is the last person in his family line. He has inherited a superb apartment which has been in his family for many years, with top of the range facilities, views and everything one would expect in a luxury apartment, with full access to wealth and opportunity. He is in his mid 50s, very much a traditional man, signet ring on his finger, a Kennedy hairstyle, tailored suits, regular get togethers with his contemporaries and friends of his parents’ generation, all-in-all rather buttoned-up. He is, in other words, the perfect gentleman, Swiss-style.
He is a trained art historian and now buys and sells works of art for an international auction house. He is surrounded by antiques and works of art, and has built himself a great and reliable reputation. He is based in the heart of Zurich, living out his regulated life amongst the rich. The income from the building in which he lives, let out to banks as it is, brings him in a fair fortune and security, let alone other income streams he has in place.
What kind of a story can the author possibly build around such a potentially unprepossessing main character?
Enter Lorena who is teetering off his wrought iron balcony balustrade with an unstable air about her as the book opens. He only met her the night before, but this oftentimes unprincipled whirlwind will undoubtedly undermine his ordered existence. And at some levels he yearns to experience what it might be to feel really alive. Could risk-taking be the answer to nudge him out of the stupor of regimented and luxurious daily life?
He has come to this state of being largely because of his up-bringing, safe, financially secure, yet he has suffered profound abandonment issues – his mother would often threaten to leave and never return, and his former wife died. He has learned to button up his feelings, and express a degree of ambivalence about relationships so as not to get too deeply committed. He maybe couldn’t control the movements of his mother, and the death of his wife but he does begin to understand that he can now exert control over the course that his own life might take. Symbolically he has lived with the bedroom, which his mother inhabited in the last years of her life, a tomb containing her things. One day, almost on a whim he decides to convert the room to a gym. He is gradually learning to look after his own needs.
There is discourse in the book, too, about the value of art. What constitutes original artwork? Why is one painting deemed more valuable than another? Much of the story is built around a Vallotton painting which is being put up for auction by one of Weynfeldt’s friends. His friend needs the money to be able to retire to Lake Como and maintain a lavish lifestyle. Loyalty and principles come into conflict, Lorena playing her challenging part.
I really enjoyed the dreamlike quality of the story and the foibles of the, at times, lugubrious protagonist, someone so immersed in his rigid culture and tradition that he hasn’t thought about life beyond the next champagne glass of Louis Roederer. It is an addictive read, with a ponderous pace that perfectly reflects the life of this erstwhile careful man. A choice for lovers of European literature.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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