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My Four Favorite New Books of 2009, #2: Ulrich Haarbürste’s Novel of Roy Orbison in Clingfilm

#1 | #3 | #4

#2. Ulrich Haarbürste’s Novel of Roy Orbison in Clingfilm by Ulrich Haarbürste (Serapion Books, 2008)

This one came out in 2008, but I didn’t pick it up until December of last year, so it still feels like a newborn to me. Not to mention that it’s the funniest and most audacious new novel that I’ve read in many years, highly deserving of further attention. For a more concise overview, please see my RCF review; I’ll use the additional space here to attempt to convey more of the book’s pleasantly unique nature.

The novel’s fifty chapters neatly relate the adventures of a German gentleman, Ulrich Haarbürste, a proper resident of a fantastical Düsseldorf and the owner of a terrapin (conjuring shades of Gérard de Nerval and his pet lobster). Mr. Haarbürste’s greatest passion in life is wrapping the rock star Roy Orbison from bottom to top in plastic wrap—or, as the British call it, cling-film:

I start from the ankles and work my way up. I work quickly and efficiently as though I have been rehearsing this moment all my life and had procured black-suited mannequins on which to practise. Soon, Roy Orbison is completely wrapped in cling-film. I almost purr with unbridled delight.

‘You are completely wrapped in cling-film,’ I report.

‘Capital,’ says Roy. ‘Now you will see some rock and roll.’

Indeed. And readers will be amazed at the many excuses that Herr Haarbürste’s finds for wrapping Roy Orbison in cling-film! UHNOROIC’s primary joy lies in the seemingly-endless innovation that the author wrings from his peculiar and unique genre:

I start at the ankles and work my way down. I cannot help noting and approving how immaculately kept his shoes are. I work breathlessly but competently, not even omitting the soles of his shoes. Soon, Roy Orbison is completely wrapped in cling-film, even his feet. My eyes roll round in my head and I start to babble and prophesy in several regional dialects.

‘You are completely wrapped in cling-film,’ I say, ‘even your feet.’

‘Capital,’ says the muffled Roy.

Such fetishistic writing proves the correct match for the novel’s content.

The novel comes packaged (in a wonderfully pulpy edition) with Haarbürste’s original twelve “Roy Orbison in Clingfilm” stories, which establish the basic premise. Each one grows better and better, but after reading them I thought, “These are cute, but there’s no way this guy will be able to stretch this gimmick into a novel.”

I was dead wrong. The novel, conventional creature that it is, merely offers Haarbürste more recurring forms to play with. (How refreshing it is to come across authors who understand that form is an opportunity for creation, not obligation!)

For instance, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, and each new chapter begins with a recap of the previous chapter:

‘Ach,’ says Roy. ‘This is a source of disappointment. I failed to remember that the party is to be a fancy dress party and I neglected to obtain a costume. We will not be able to attend after all.’

Now what can take place! You do not know. But if you wait for the next chapter you will find out. In this matter you are but puppets on my string.

Chapter 7

In the surprising climax of the last chapter an unfortunate situation had arisen wherein Roy looked unable to attend a showbusiness party due to a regrettable lack of costume.

Is he in fact doomed to be excluded from the gathering of his entertainment peers…? Read on and all will be made plain.

As the novel progresses, this pattern, too, evolves, intersecting with other motifs:

Now here is a cliffhanger to kill for! What can happen now? Will I be forced to wrap Jim Morrison in cling-film or will something occur to forestall this foolish and hideous travesty? Do not expect mercy from this quarter for I am resolved not to tell you until the next chapter. I confess the power has gone to my head and I am tempted to forbid you to read it for two weeks at least. But I will not do so.

Chapter 14

I resume without ado as it would be the rankest impoliteness to tarry with preamble after such a shocking cliffhanger.

‘Do not be so foolish,’ Yul Brynner snaps at Jim Morrison. ‘You are like the emulous dog in the fine old Dusseldorf fable who wished to be an octopus and was covered in humiliation. One clingfilm wrapping is more than enough for any party.’ Here I disagree with Yul but as he is the host it would be impolite to say so.

The novel also benefits from an expanded scope; it really is a novel (exhibiting a surprising degree of formal unity—the plotting is airtight). Later chapters introduce not only Jim Morrison and Yul Brynner, but also a Rolling Stone reporter, sinister spies, one of the spy’s similarly sinister mother, and Mitzi Klavierstuhl, “the effervescent weather-girl of Guten Abend Dusseldorf.”

I read UHNOROIC rapidly and with great joy, devouring the brief but suspenseful and addictive chapters during my spare moments: riding the train and bus, while walking through the streets. And although I may have started reading partly to see when the author would finally blink or slip up, after a dozen or so chapters I simply surrendered, delighting in the book’s endless ingenuity and good humor, accepting that I was in the hands of a master. UHNOROIC was my go-to Christmas present in 2008; 2009 will see me handing out copies like candy once again.

Wrapped in cling-film.

Tomorrow: Book #3.

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

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