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Head Count: Ingrid Noll

“I didn’t yet know at that time that Cora regarded men as just some kind of mouse that you played with for a while, the way a kitten does, before satisfying your hunger.”

November 2022 and it’s German Literature Month XII. Here’s my first (possibly only) pick: Ingrid Noll’s Head Count–a title that has a double meaning. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between Cora and Maya who meet at school when Maya is 16. Maya has an unpleasant home life; her delinquent father absconded to pursue the life of an artist, leaving Maya’s mother in the lurch with two children to support. Maya’s mother, lacking compassion, is a nurse who works in “the most unsuitable job possible for her.” There’s never enough money and they live in poverty. Maya is not popular at school; in fact, she’s subjected to cruel teasing, but Maya’s life changes when Cora (Cornelia) appears in her class. Cora seeks out Maya and they become firm friends.

Cora’s family is well off, and her home life is everything Maya could dream off. At first it would seem that the two girls are very different from each other but the underlying commonality is delinquent behavior.

Cora wants to be an artist:

Cora revealed a slight tendency towards revolting subjects. In an attempt to impress her, I confessed my kleptomania. She was thrilled to hear it.

Soon Cora and Maya are inseparable and together their delinquency escalates from shoplifting lipstick to more more expensive items. Maya’s brother, Carlo, develops a crush on Cora, and much to Maya’s distress, Cora doesn’t seem to discourage Carlo. The book follows Cora and Maya’s exploits as they become young women. Before long there’s a whiff of the Parker-Hulme case to Cora and Maya’s relationship, and more than one man meets a grisly end.

Noll’s female characters make short work of men who drift into their lives. Cora finds herself a rich sugar daddy and marries him while Maya falls pregnant and marries a dull lump of a man who has no idea what he’s dealing with. Maya’s delinquent father drifts in and out of her life and he’s sometimes used as a tool to weigh Maya down. This is the third Ingrid Noll book I’ve read, and sadly most of the titles from this author don’t make it to translation. Of the three books, this was my least favourite.

Translated by Ian Mitchell

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Filed under Fiction, Noll Ingrid