The Mussel Feast, by Birgit Vanderbeke

I never heard of Birgit Vanderbeke before. I picked up the book to see who she was. It says on the back “the modern German classic that has shaped an entire generation.” I discount that as a bit of blás, but I’m drawn in by the fact that it’s modern and German. There’s a quote from the author. She says “I wrote this book in August 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.” The book is thin. It’s nicely designed. So I buy it.

I read it for twenty-four pages before I can’t take any more. I skip to the end. I read the last three pages and know I will never read the seventy pages I’ve skipped. It’s one of those books where there’s no action and it’s all talk. It’s talk about me, me, me and my family. My Dad likes this food done in this way and here’s why. My mother does this and it annoys me.

This is the action: a mother and her two teenage children sit at the dinner table. There’s a large pot of cooked mussels on the table. It’s six o’clock and the Dad hasn’t arrived home yet. By a quarter to ten, when the book ends, he still won’t have arrived home.

It’s more like a description of a painting than the plot of a novel.

If you took a book like The Postman Only Rings Twice and searched the world for its most opposite book, The Mussel Feast would be the answer.

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