“Margot was dressed in nothing but a black suspender belt and red boots, and she had perched her purple knickers coquettishly on her head.”
Pharmacist Hella Moorman is stuck in bed at the Heidelberg Hospital for Women. With nothing to do and bored to tears, Hella begins to tell her life story to her roommate, a very dull looking “ageing spinster.” It seems harmless to confess all, and the roommate, Rosemarie Hirte, following a hysterectomy and a cancer diagnosis, seems half asleep most of the time anyway. To Hella, telling all is “a kind of therapy.” Hella admits that in her past she “kept falling for men who were having an even harder time of it than I was.” That is a long way of saying they were LOSERS. Hella, who comes from a good family, has a pattern of trying to salvage hopeless men. By the time she’s an adult, she’s been accused of murder (nothing can be proved) and has had a string of awful men in her life. But she’s intelligent and becomes a pharmacist.
Enter Levin, a much younger man who says he’s studying to be a dentist. Within a short period of time, Levin has moved in, and good at spending Hella’s money, he persuades her to buy a flashy red convertible. There’s the impression that Hella is not very attractive; she’s the one who has to initiate sex with Levin. He doesn’t seem that interested, and he’s much more interested in the sports car. Hella admits the car has its uses: “it was fun roaring around with someone in a perpetual state of euphoria.”
Over time, Hella learns that Levin is to inherit his grandfather, Herman’s, impressive mansion and ALL of his money. Too bad the old chap won’t be reasonable and die. In the meantime, Levin, who can’t wait for his inheritance begins to siphon off valuables from his grandfather’s house. Levin employs a vastly unsuitable young woman named Margot to care for his grandfather. Margot looks as though she belongs on a stripper pole rather than behind a wheelchair.
Margot was no thrifty housekeeper but a thoroughly incompetent slut.
As Rosemarie listens to this sordid tale from her hospital bed, she occasionally jumps in with snarky, tart comments. At one point she interrupts Hella:
“Were you really so stupid as to actually marry that waster?” demanded Frau Hirte. “If so, then please skip the wedding, if you don’t mind, and go straight on to the successful divorce proceedings.”
Rosemarie doesn’t seem in the least concerned to hear that Levin was fascinated by Hella’s secret stash of poisons passed on from her creepy Nazi grandfather.
Hella’s tale is tinged with ‘if onlys.’ If only Levin will marry her … If only she can have a child … If only Margot would leave …
Here’s Hella’s wedding day with Margot stealing the show:
I looked so pretty, or at least so I imagined; my costume suited me perfectly and my father had put around my neck, with his own fair hand, the six rows of polished pearls and garnets which had belonged to his grandmother and which I had had my eye on for a long time. But then it all started to go wrong. I caught sight of Margot and was horrified. Was this the mangy cat who had, after a fashion, taken care of Herman Graber’s household? Before me stood a young woman in a black dress, the top half transparent and, at the back, plunging all the way down to the start of the valley between her buttocks; totally out of place, and no doubt paid for out of my money. And confronted with this package of aggressive, low-class sex, many of the men were asking eagerly, ‘who’s that, then?‘
Things become even more complicated when Margot’s husband, Dieter, Levin’s best friend and former partner-in-crime, shows up. Yes Hella’s life would be perfect … if only Margot would disappear. And then there’s the decision about which man of three (yes, three no less) she should choose. As Hella’s sordid tale continues, and becomes darker, we only have her version of events. She positions herself as an innocent bystander surrounded by users and yet is Hella the sort to be a victim? Is Hella a reliable narrator? This novel, with its dark transgressive humour, follows Hella’s lifestory as told to Rosemarie Hirte. Rosemarie, by the way, has a sordid tale of her own in Hell Hath No Fury.
Goodwill, dependability, loyalty and morality don’t stand a chance when sex is involved.
This was a great pick for German Literature Month.