Kristine Bilkau’s novel “Nebenan”: Normals lose their faith in the world – culture

It’s Julia, about thirty, a potter, shy. She and her husband Chris, a biologist, have only recently moved to the village in the Kiel Canal. From the old building to the big city, they moved into a self-renovated brick house. Ivy greets you from the window.

And then there is Astrid, in her early sixties, a licensed physician. Until recently, her husband Andreas was a history teacher in the county town, where Julia has her own studio shop with an online store and Astrid has her own practice. Now he is a retiree sitting in the living room in his pajamas at lunchtime, absorbing news from the US and Europe of the recent past and just as concerned about the political situation of the world as Chris is about the ecological one.

Two women’s lives shown in parallel

The writer from Hamburg, Kristine Bilkau, compares marriages at different moments of their lives, shown in parallel and then ties them together. The creeping fear of social collapse in such a normal family, which Bilkau described in 2015 in her award-winning debut “The Happy Ones”, corresponds to the decline of basic trust in the world and the people she tells “Next Door” “.

Faced with the rotten landscape of an unnamed small town with a dying center and a village in which the elderly in the settlers’ homes have no connection with the families of the new dwellings after the descendants have emigrated, to which “the Bauhaus and Friesian style line in alternation.

With her clear and fruitless language, moderately adorned with impressions of nature, the author describes the growing distrust in the provinces. But not in the form of a horror story in which the mysterious disappearance of a family with three children from the adjacent house, around which the “adjacent arrival” revolves, is expected to be uncovered as a crime.

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Instead, Bilkau delicately pushes the yellow clinker building with the overflowing mailbox, which is right next to Julia’s house, into the center of her thoughts. And then to Astrid, because her elderly aunt Elsa, for whom she feels responsible, lives across the street. The author creates small shifts in daily life, evokes feelings of insecurity. Reported secrecy and omissions between married couples. And it describes women, whose stream of thoughts is so full of desires and worries that it threatens to conquer everything.

An elderly woman lies dead in the bathtub

Julia has so much desire for a child that she invests endless time and money in hormone therapy and artificial insemination. Astrid, whose three sons have long since left home and live with their families halfway around the world, wonders when the right time will come to retire.

The year is only a few days, the landscape stretches bare and frozen, and just then the first imbalance in Astrid’s daily monotony arises. She is called in for an operation before dawn. An elderly woman lies dead in the bathtub. The man does not want to have noticed anything. Bilkau counters the daily horror with a delightful metaphor: “The water in the bathtub is motionless like glass.”

Cover of “Next Door”.Photo: Luchterhand

[Kristine Bilkau: Nebenan. Roman. Luchterhand Literaturverlag, München 2022. 288 Seiten, 24 €.]

Hematomas and swelling in the woman’s body make Astrid suspicious of her natural death. To her husband’s horror, she calls the police and insists on an autopsy. The cosmos house, which Julia feels in her ivy idyll as a refuge against the uncontrollable outside world, can also be the scene of carelessness or even cruelty.

Like the neighborhood where the son of Marley, Astrid’s girlfriend, as a teenager, once set fire to hedgehogs and hung rabbits in the playground. An inexplicable, frightening act for the mother, which plunges her into deep emotional anxiety.

As strange as the threatening letters that Astrid suddenly sends to someone in practice and that she prefers to tell Marl to her husband. The letters attack the guardian’s nerves. “The feeling of imminent punishment follows him. She feels like she is walking on thin ice. She has to be careful. Something is going to happen, it’s in the air. One wrong step and then. “

How should the community develop if there are no places?

But “and then” does not come. Normalcy continues, frighteningly, of course. The neighboring family remains missing, but the vacuum of horror in women’s heads is diminishing.

Also because Julia realizes that she is responsible for her isolation, because she constantly compares her supposedly imperfect lives to ideal families on Instagram. And because she longs for connections and communication, but withdraws shocked as soon as the phone or store bell rings. In fact a big city syndrome. The socially isolated individuals of the present create their own hell. This is how “Next Door” narrates quietly and artistically.

Where should the community be born if there are no places? The dilapidated shop in the market square has been blown up, the cinema, café and dance school have been closed for a long time. In this oblivion of North Germany, Kristine Bilkau constantly keeps in oblivion her story of extinction and discovery. Only when it comes to the possible topic of motherhood does she put it too thick. But then it is Julia of all people who, in a happy careful ending, realizes that life can not succeed without faith. Gunda Bartels

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