Friday, 15 October 2010

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

Reading this was just about as enthralling as a visit to the shrink. Half the time I didn't know what the dwarf was banging on about and the other half of the time I spent yawning and, I admit it, a little skimming, and these are things I don't normally do for if a book doesn't win me over in the first 100 pages I generally ditch it. And I should have done so in this case.

So why did I persevere? Was it some won't be beaten foolishness in me or was I merely a victim of all the hype, symbolised by that golden badge of Nobel laureateship stamped prominently like a war medal on the cover? The story jumped around like a flea in a circus. It seemed to go nowhere. The hook was Danzig, Poland, and Hitler's War, but even the green eels squirming in the horse's head, a defining moment in the book, failed to win me over.

There were hints of the so-called Crystal Night or Night of Broken Glass. Our heroic dwarf, whose name by the way is Oskar, could smash windows on the other side of town merely by pitching a scream, or targeting his high-pitched voice, or whatever the technique was. He finished up, after a few miscellaneous fringe of war adventures and some semi-erotic episodes, in a mental hospital being cared for by a guy named Bruno. Or did he? The last 50 pages of the 500 or so escaped my attention.

Great novels have been written on the themes of mental illness, conflict, cruelty and injustice; novels such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Catch 22 for example. Günter Grass's book The Tin Drum, whatever the Nobel Prize badge may say, is not one of them.

Poet-in-Residence's Verdict: Save your time and money for something better.


  1. Interesting crit Poet. I used to make myself finish any book I started (I never started Ulysees!) because I felt it was my duty. As I have got old I do as you do - if it doesn't soon grip me then I ditch it. Life now is too short to read things I don't enjoy.

    Could you please pop over to my post, read the poem and give me your opinion on sentimentality in art in general and poetry in particular. I have always thought sentimentality killed art but Grizz has made a valid comment which has set me thinking. I suppose one could call the Pre=Raphaelites sentimentalists (?)- an interesting point and I would really value your opinion.

  2. It's been awhile since I read it, but I remember liking it a lot. To each his own. No because critics told me it was great, but because I liked it. I did read it when I was young, and I think my tastes are probably quieter now, but I don't attribute this to wisdom particularly, more to chaos and "muchness" being more acceptable to my young brain.

  3. Pat,
    I won't make the same time-wasting mistake again,
    it has childish qualities and absurdities - maybe that's a big selling point?

  4. I confess I didn't finish it. Now I'm thinking I should have another try.


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