Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (translated by Ross Benjamin) – A Book Review

Daniel Kehlmann and Ross Benjamin have together created an updated version of the tales of Tyll Ulenspiegel, trickster. There is a long line of retellings of this man’s story. He first appeared in print in a pamphlet published in 1515 which has Tyll born in Brunswick in the 1300s and dying of the plague in 1350.

Since his original appearance this impish man and his tales have been revamped in many contexts. In Kehlmann’s Tyll, Tyll’s life and times have been transposed to the Holy Roman Empire’s Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) one of the most brutal and longest wars in history. Tyll is the magic thread connecting a miscellany of stories and characters, reaching from the late English Reformation and Guy Fawkes, through to the death of King Gustav Adolf of Sweden.

As a young boy Tyll leaves his home village somewhere south of Mölln Schleswig-Holstein, with his friend Nele. For many years the two of them travel the length and breadth of the Holy Roman Empire taking up with vagabonds and minstrels, learning many tricks along the way. Tyll juggles, sings, tightrope walks and dances with Nele shocking their audiences, entertaining and manipulating them and never staying around for very long. As they travel across devastated lands they bear witness to the horror and fragility of life in a world where war defines life and death, and everything in between hobbles along in grim parade. We traverse a world of terrifying primitiveness, despite the trappings of educated religious authorities. It becomes quite clear that fear and how to wield it, is the currency of the times.

Tyll Ulenspiegel (Owl Mirror) is all of us, our glories and our not-so-glories, our ambitions, wants, all of it including our deviousnesses and dishonesties. Kehlmann’s Tyll is part philosopher, part scholar, always moving never certain, never fixed, fluid like the mill stream in which he got his second baptism and nearly drowned as a boy. Kehlmann links Tyll, Nene and multiple other characters to a series of secondary stories that mostly work. Through these vignettes we learn more, too much even, about the Thirty Years War and its destruction of so many lives.

Ross Benjamin’s translation is excellent, capturing the rhythm and nuances of the original German. His English version is lyrical and evokative of the grim reality of times when there is rarely enough to eat or somewhere safe to rest. Roving labourers, be they mercenaries or mill hands, are as much victims of their times as the famers and villagers trying to grub a living surrounded by danger and threat. No one is safe. Disease and superstition are rampant and as Tyll and his various companions move across the landscape, Kehlmann shows us just how deadly even a tiny dose of either can be. Interweaving folklore, myth and religion constantly juxtaposes the most basic questions of life (gas-food-lodging) with our need for spiritual comfort, enlightment and protection. Ignorance and Christianity are as much enemies as friends and the fears of Protestants for and of their Catholic breathren weaves throughout the texts. Like Tyll on his tightrope, they are another reminder of the precariousness of existence both in life and afterwards. Fear of what God and the devil might do to you is constantly balanced with fear of what your fellow man might do to you. This tension runs through the narrative and is evident in most of the digressions into different characters and their stories.

The need to rationalise is with us still, as are the motivations of many of these individuals, from wanting to help and heal, through to wanting power and legacy. There is always a risk that deliberate motivations and rationales will lead to corruption. Destruction and death is obviously a powerful a theme in this book, but neither is constrained to the times of the Thirty Years War. We come to understand that death is just another state or phase of existence. In the seventeenth century that state of light or dark was not necessarily so dreadful. At least not when compared to existing in a world shaped by war, want, disease, loss and futility, spells and relics. Read Tyll  and feel the slippery touch of those times.

Lindström Draws the Reader into Her Heartwarming Debut

Find out more from Bookhive: https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Laurel-Lindstrom/The-Draftsman/25875852

(Not sure I would agree with “heartwarming”, but what do I know. Read The Draftsman and decide for yourself. Either way, many thanks to The Library Door @apaulmurphy https://thelibrarydoor.me/2021/05/29/lindstrom-draws-the-reader-into-her-heartwarming-debut/ for this review.)

I don’t how you did in school? Me? I was an average kid. Usually given the yard stick of looking up to my high achieving cousins by my well-meaning parents. But as is often said, everyone has their own unique talents and therefore just because maths or metalwork, languages or technical drawing isn’t your thing, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Usually by the time you graduate college you will have found your true calling.

Some people may discover their unique talents earlier than most, because of being gifted or highly intelligent. This often leads to problems with socially interaction with their peers or being unable to develop loving relationships, unless they find someone or a group of other high achieving likeminded individuals. Usually, they turn into loners because no one can relate to them or understand what internal struggles they are dealing with. Thus, everyday routines that you and I may carry out almost naturally can be seen as a hurdle. Dealing with the complexities of being gifted is the main story of this months third book review, its The Draftsman by Laurel Lindstrom and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com)   on the 21st April 2021.

Martin Cox is an untrained, but gifted, draftsman, in his early twenties, who has become quite wealthy due to a number of shrewd technical designs. But he’s also damaged by his parents protective care and is obsessive as a result of his superior intellect. When he purchases Shadowhurst a large estate in the West Country as both an investment and a way of finding peace and tranquillity for his overactive mind, he soon discovers that there is more than a bit of history to it, and as a result he finds an outlet to occupy his mind, researching its history.

At five pages short of two hundred, this book is not to far off being a novella. Is it a one sitting read? That depends on the reader. For me, the first quarter of the book didn’t really do much and I had feelings of entering The Milkman territory – which I had to throw down after twenty pages. With The Draftsman, I felt adrift and unable to find a footing, but persevered and shortly afterwards when the back story about how Martin made his money was being told, I fell in love with it and from then on it made a lot of sense.

Martin is a beautifully written and a very believable troubled character trying to cope with his foibles and weird mannerisms, and as he starts to slowly overcome them, you feel happy and even emotional at times. Any fear you might have for him dissipates near the end as you realise he has some very good friends and family, including his old boss, Bill, who sees what a complicated character he is due to his high level of intellect, but slowly allows him to move from being just an office tea boy, to a skilled and much sought after draftsman.

There is also the unrequited love storyline that takes place between Martin and his financial advisor Joshua. You get the feeling, Joshua wants something to happen, but in the end, Martin just too wrapped up in himself to notice.

Meanwhile the research that Martin takes on, around the history of Shadowhurst is straightforward, but the mystery that surrounds one particular part of it is lovely and excellently revealed at the end.

This is the debut novel of English author, technical writer, and journalist Laurel Lindstrom  (www.laurellindstrom.org) . She’s written a number of collections of short stories in the past as well two books of nonfiction Internet for Beginners (1997) and Past, Print, Future (2018). She has a degree in linguistics from UCLA and is a visiting professor at the Shenzhen Technical University in China. She currently lives in east Sussex.

So, if you are looking for short, but heart-warming read about a gifted individual that, then take up a pen and write a note reminding yourself that next time you are in your local bookshop to look out for it or put an order in.

Reviewed by – Adrian Murphy

… read more reviews here: https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1082
https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1094
https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1087
https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1068
https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1332

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1016

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57605484-the-draftsman

This is my favourite review! Someone said “Wow” about The Draftsman!

The Draftsman by Laurel Lindström 

BY SHELLEYFALLOWS ON  • ( 1 )

Martin Cox is a brilliant but untrained draftsman in his early twenties. He is rich, damaged, obsessive. Shadowhurst Hall, remote, desolate and forgotten, exerts a peculiar pull. The country landscape, a world of shades and shadows, both confuses and beguiles Martin, a man more comfortable in black and white, with facts and numbers.

As he explores the house, the landscape and its history it leads him on a journey – back in time to two world wars, and forwards, unexpectedly, towards a healing. A novel of memory and history, and of the scars left by
unacknowledged damage and how they can shape us, The Draftsman is also a story of renewal.

Wow. This is an absolutely stunning novel. Beautifully written. Laurel captures the vice like grip of anxiety and the shadow it casts over a life just brilliantly. Trauma and memories from the past have a hold over Martin. It is something he will never talk about, there is no resolution. But this story shows his journey through the darkness, how he emerges blinking, slowly finding acceptance and life. Upon entering Shadowhurst Hall, his world shifts slightly and he is disorientated. His view changes in more ways than one and suddenly he is able to look out past the trauma, able to face different situations.

Upon first glance this is such an unassuming novel but, oh my goodness, what an absolute gem it is. It is stunning and wonderfully unique. The cover image grabbed me initially. It packs such as strong visual pull and then of course the synopsis, mysterious and with the intrigue of the house and surroundings – I just couldn’t wait to read it. 

I absolutely devoured it. The prose is beautifully constructed. Laurel has a degree in Linguistics and you can see how much she loves (and breathes) language. It isn’t a novel to rush though, but one to savour whilst you slowly digest every single morsel. 

“Martin looked back at the lake lying smooth in the still, dead air, its uncertain shades and shadows rimmed with weedy debris. He didn’t see the seasonless, lifeless memories of long-gone summers shivering on its surface. Nor did he see that close to the tired fence, the twisted grasping fingers of bare trees were writing long-forgotten secrets in old blacks and sepias against a miserable sky. Martin’s cigarette burned down in a series of tiny pops and hisses, masking the whispers hanging momentarily in the desolate grey air. As he stared out at the baffle of the landscape he felt a curious sense of erosion, a creeping, unidentifiable darkness. He looked again at the shades and shadows but only saw the lines between black and white.”

Dripping with metaphor we see Martin’s state of mind through his surroundings. He spends his time between his London flat – a place where he smokes heavily, rarely cleans and lives in squalor and Shadowhurst Hall the complete opposite. Whilst at Shadowhurst he doesn’t smoke and has a cleaner every day to keep the place spotless. It is almost as though he is trying to cleanse his soul – to break free whilst he is there. Martin is a strange, damaged character who has built his own coping abilities to deal with the shadows in his past. This story is an awakening of not only Martin, but also of Shadowhurst Hall and the secrets locked away in the past. 

For me, this story was unforgettable. It was incredibly moving and touched a part of my soul. There is much darkness but you feel the mist lifting as the novel progresses and the story is ultimately filled with hope and light. Thoroughly recommended.

My thanks go out to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and to the publisher for sending me a review copy. I know this will be a novel I will return to again and again. It is available on both eBook and in paperback. I do hope that one day an audiobook will be available, the prose written hear cries out to be read aloud. 

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1078

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1082

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1094

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1068

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1332

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1016

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57605484-the-draftsman

What Would Laurel Lindström Say, As A Critic, About The Draftsman?

Laurel Lindström and a lot of ceiling. Room to grow.

What would they say?
In reading and critiquing Best First Novel Award contenders it occurs to me that I am too harsh, too demanding and way too mean to these brave writers. It makes me wonder what would I say about the Draftsman if Unbound puts it forward as a candidate? There is certainly lots to say about this book, starting with its basic premise: it’s about a brilliant but damaged man and is the story of his genius, his healing and a forgotten mystery. Well yes it’s all of that, but it took me ages to come up with this tight little distillation. Unfortunately it makes the book sound quite interesting, which I am not sure that it is.
 
It’s all about …
The Draftsman is about Martin Cox an untrained draftsman of 24. He’s accidentally rich, a heavy smoker, damaged, obsessive, binary. He buys a house in the country as an investment and to get away from his squalid London flat. The country landscape surrounding Shadowhurst Hall confuses and beguiles Martin, who obsesses with black and white contrasts and binary expression, facts, numbers, in a world of shades and shadows. The desolation and the twin lakes on his property exert a peculiar pull that he doesn’t understand, but which attracts him. He doesn’t smoke in his new house. Let’s face it, he’s weird.
 
The story slowly unfolds in a series of flashbacks which explain how the man came to be so wealthy, why he’s strange and how he might get better if only he would learn to be at least a little bit nice to people. Except that he cannot, at least he cannot until he starts getting interested in his new house and its history. Gradually he moves towards renewal, but not for any particular reason and this is perhaps annoying for readers.
 
This is the bit that the critic in me hates in the Draftsman. He moves so damn slowly from thing to thing and there are way too many words cluttering up his aimless meanderings. His friends are nondescript and his relations mostly dead. How can you have a central character who is so closed up and strange? Why would a reader want to know more about Martin Cox? Unless you want to categorise him somehow, which seems to be a popular sport these days.
 
Reading it as a critic this is what I would say. Of course as the author I have some power to fix it, but here’s a thing. Once something is written and finished it is really hard to go back and restructure it, rewrite it so much that it turns into something completely different. The only way I can correct my own omissions and errors, is to revisit Martin Cox and put him into a new and different context. This context will have to be Martin Cox as the intrepid brain, searching for the answers to the mystery that is only uncovered at the end of the Draftsman. Giving his razor wired brain something to unravel will give me some structure within which to elaborate the whos, whys and wherefores of Martin Cox without using imagistic flashbacks. One to think about.

More reviews here:

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1078

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1082

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1087

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1068

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1332

https://wordpress.com/post/laurellindstrom.org/1016

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57605484-the-draftsman