The bloodier details
When people ask what my first novel, Unnatural Order, is about I say it’s a story of an obsessive sexual relationship.
And that's true, but it's only part of the story.
f I feel the questioner really wants to know, I say that it’s about a journalist, Caroline, who goes to live in Germany in the late 1980s when the country (then still known as West Germany) was finally engaging with the horrors of the Nazi past.
Yes, Caroline is there because of a highly problematic love affair. But the book is about her work and the way she gets drawn into investigating the pasts of several men, including the father of her lover.
But now that the novel has just been re-published as an e-book, I’ve looked back at the reviews it received in 1995 when Reed Books first published it.
Philippa Hawker, of The Age wrote that ‘At first, Unnatural Order seems to be primarily a story of misguided romance and claustrophobic obsession, the tale of a woman who gradually surrenders her independence to a man and a culture’.
But ‘the novel explores more than the darker side of devotion.
‘As a journalist, Caroline becomes involved in several potential stories, and her investigations take her out of the encircling cocoon of her life with Karl.
‘A woman accused of murdering her child seems to be the victim of local prejudices: following up the lead, Caroline starts to unravel other secrets, stories from Germany's recent history which also throw her life and past into sharp relief.’
It's such a relief when a reviewer you respect gets what you’re on about.
You see, whenever a journalist writes a book with a journalist main character, most people think she’s just reprinting her diary. If only it were that easy.
Yes, of course there were elements in the book that I adapted from my own life. Versions of two ex-lovers made it in. But the two men, along with the tortured relationship that the novel’s protagonist Caroline has with her partner Karl, were just a frame for its far darker plot material – none of which I tackled when I lived and worked as a journalist in Stuttgart.
I accumulated most of the book’s bloodier details over a harrowing six months of reading the Goethe Institute library dry of every book about the Nazi period.
When Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland was published, I pounced on it, looking for a case with details I could adapt for one of the old men Caroline would encounter.
While preparing the book for this e-publication, I cringed a bit at the character’s uncritical acceptance of domestic coupledom as an ideal. In my defense, however, I have to say that, for plot reasons, I needed Caroline to stay in a relationship that was sexually compelling but difficult in every other way.
I suppose I could have made her interrogate that notion more. But my priority was a plot in which a journalist wrestles with the dilemma of living in a society at a time when she can still smell all the filthy wartime secrets festering under the clean and polished surfaces of the present.
Unnatural Order is available as an eBook from Clan Destine Press, and from Amazon, iTunes and other online booksellers.