book review: The Club by Takis Würger

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THE CLUB by Takis Würger
translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
★☆☆☆☆
Grove, March 12, 2019

 

This has to be one of the most bizarrely terrible things I’ve ever read. So, the reason I requested this book is because its summary reminded me of a film I like, The Riot Club, which is based off a play I like, Posh by Laura Wade. It’s an ugly story, one that examines the kind of privilege and entitlement and classism and toxic masculinity inherent to elite dining clubs. These are all themes that interest me, and I suppose they must also interest Takis Würger, but they couldn’t have been presented in a more shallow or superficial way in this book if he tried. Characters are caricatures, conflict is nonexistent, the writing is dreadful and perfunctory, the point of view shifts are awkward, and the treatment of its subject matter is appalling. So, let’s begin!

The Club follows Hans, a German orphan whose aunt Alex contacts him out of the blue when he turns 18 and promises to secure him a place at Cambridge, where she works as a professor in art history, but in return he has to investigate the Pitt Club, an all-male dining club who have committed some kind of crime. There will be some spoilers in the rest of this review, which I try to avoid but frankly I don’t care because I wouldn’t wish this book on anyone else, but if you don’t want to spoiled, quit this review while you’re ahead.

So, it’s revealed about halfway through that the crime being investigated is rape, and this is handled… about as crudely as humanly possible (also, trigger warnings for the rest of this review as well as for the book). Aside from the fact that Hans’ main source of internal conflict comes from whether he should betray the rapists who have become his friends (my heart goes out to you dude, must be real tough), and culminates in a positively absurd scene where Hans is debating whether or not he should allow a drugged girl to be raped in order to obtain damning evidence of the club before overcoming his moral quandary by scooping her up and running out the door with her (never mind the other girls who have been left behind at that party?!), we also have an utterly senseless relationship between Hans and Charlotte, one of the Pitt Club’s former victims, which is treated with all the nuance and sensitivity that this sentence would suggest: “I couldn’t stop thinking about how wounded she had seemed when she told me about being raped. I wondered what it meant for us.” Yes, seriously. And even if we can look past the fact that the entire premise hinges on a man getting justice for a woman being raped, which is a narrative that just… needs to end, period, the way it’s handled is so clumsy. Like, at one point, Hans grabs Charlotte’s arm and she tells him off because she’d promised herself she’d never let a man touch her without her permission again… good! But then later, she apologizes to him for that?! Würger goes to great pains to remind us that poor orphaned Hans is the real victim in all this.

And aside from all that, it’s just… bad? It’s mostly told from Hans’ perspective, but other POVs are thrown in and not a single one of them furthers the narrative. We hear from other members of the club who talk like… well, like this: “Basically, I was living proof that money, a place at Cambridge, and a big dick don’t make you happy. Fuck.” We hear from Alex, who just… weirdly rehashes conversations that we’d JUST read from Hans’ perspective. We hear from Charlotte, who you’d think had accidentally slammed her finger in a car door for all the impact a traumatic assault had on her. We hear from a Chinese student named Peter who’s obsessed with gaining entry to the club at all costs, and I guess he was also friends with Charlotte at one point but I’m not sure why that detail was included as it’s never mentioned again? None of it amounts to anything – some of these characters have arcs, others do not, but nothing is resolved except for the mystery of who raped Charlotte, which is never really a mystery at all (I’ll give you a hint: he has a big dick and he’s unhappy).

And even Hans is a generic non-entity of a character. This is the kind of insight that Hans would regularly treat us to: “I didn’t listen to music; I jogged without music, boxed without music. There’d been music at my parents’ funeral.” There’d been music at his parents’ funeral so he could never listen to music again????? There’d also been clothes as his parents’ funeral, I’d assume?! (Also, his parents didn’t die at the same time, meaning they would have had multiple funerals, but I’m hoping that was just a typo.) And also: “Charlotte fell asleep on my elbow. After my parents’ death I’d thought I could never love again, because the fear of losing someone was too great. I had grown cold inside. Now here was this woman, lying on my arm.” Cliche after cliche after cliche. This book just… has nothing at all to say. It wants to be edgy and groundbreaking and enlightening but it is just so painfully vapid in every conceivable way.

I mean, it’s quick and readable, I’ll give it that, but my god, at what cost.

Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

25 thoughts on “book review: The Club by Takis Würger

  1. So, I am obviously sorry you had to read something that sounds absolutely truly awful. But my first emotion when seeing you had written a one-star-review was happiness. I love your one-star-reviews. Still, this book sounds like a dumpster-fire.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This sounds abysmal, but it was a lot of fun reading your review! I hope getting to rant about it made up for the poor reading experience, at least a little. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds too terrible to believe! I can’t believe that line about what her rape means for him too (!!!!) It sounds like it just does a lot more damage than whatever good he had in mind (? I have to think he wrote it however hamfistedly or misguidedly or just plain awfully with some kind of good intentions?) Thanks for such an amusing and smart review though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I KNOW RIGHT I was like WOW this was not only PUBLISHED but TRANSLATED how did this HAPPEN!!! That line about how her rape affected him killed me, I mean the whole thing was terrible but that sentence definitely takes the cake. I don’t even know what the author was thinking to be honest – I feel like this was meant to be an exposé of sorts (Würger himself went to Cambridge and was in the Pitt Club) – like ‘all-male clubs do terrible misogynistic things’ (no shit), I really don’t think the rape was the focus at all…? I felt like it could have easily been substituted for any ‘crime’ and the author would have gotten his point across. Which is of course THE WORST offense a book about rape can commit. If you’re going to write about it it needs to be more than a plot device for god’s sake!!!

      Like

    • Just in case you’ve managed to revive yourself, you get another quotation that I was desperately trying to fit into my review somewhere because of the sheer atrocity of this writing:

      ‘‘‘I’m not going to play this game much longer,’ I said.

      I got up to leave, but [Alex] grabbed my hand. I could feel her strength. She was so strong I didn’t dare move. I knew I would do everything Alex asked of me.’’

      I mean we’ve really got it all here – ‘I could feel her strength’ immediately followed by ‘she was so strong’ immediately followed by some kind of unexplained character development because things just HAPPEN in this book and no one acts like a human person and HOW DID THIS GET PUBLISHED HOW

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also…are we meant to believe that entitled rich boys who join things like the Pitt Club can be intimidated by girls grabbing their hands?! It’s almost grotesque in its blindness to the power structures *on which the book’s entire plot appears to rely*.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Could NOT have put it better myself. This author lives in a universe where toxic masculinity and female aggression are equitable, apparently, which made for some hilariously tone-deaf passages but my god is it sickening.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like a terrible book but makes for a fun review to read! I had to laugh at his reaction to music being played at his parents’ funerals. Gotta love when authors think something as weird and generic as “character hates music” is the same as creating a well-rounded person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That line about music at his parents’ funeral KILLED ME. That’s exactly what was wrong with everyone’s characterization in this book – the author thinking that likes and dislikes are a substitute for personality. Like, that bro character, his entire thing was that he liked boxing and cooking. I wasn’t aware it was even possible to write a shallow portrayal of a bro, AND YET, here we are.

      Liked by 1 person

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