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Lappert (1)

lappert_rolf_hf1Born in Zürich in 1958, resident in Listowel in County Kerry in Ireland, ROLF LAPPERT was shortlisted for the German Book Prize in 2008. His novel Nach Hause schwimmen (‘Swimming Home’)was voted the readers’ favourite by visitors to the online Reading Room ( ‘Lesesaal’) of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. The novel subsequently won the inaugural Swiss Book Prize. Lappert – a graphic designer, originally – has also run a jazz club & been a scriptwriter for Swiss TV.

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From: Swimming Home

If a friendship consisted of adventures, of campaigns and conquests, if it was based on romping around and mad games and the meaningless damming of streams, then what existed between Wilbur and Conor was not a friendship. Whole afternoons the two of them would spend, sitting in the grass on the flat hill next to the house, looking inland, not out to sea, and speaking either not at all, or only in short sentences, like old men. A quiet agreement reigned between the two that had it that life was too complicated to be able to chat about it using just any old words; or to trivialise it, like the girls in the schoolyard did, out of sheer boredom.
They would rather be silent than disturb the tranquillity with banalities. It was for the adults to philosophise about the colours in the sky and their influence on the weather; to display their knowledge of the Gaelic Football teams that had made it into the final; or to speculate as to why Rosie O’Sea, aged 17, had gone into the water when she knew she couldn’t swim. They left it to the boozers in the pub to complain about the falling milk prices and the rising beer ones; and to the boys in the playground to go on at length about English footballs teams and Italian racing cars. They would sit there silently, noting any movement in the grass, as the world around them, now all excited, now bored stiff, yapped away to itself.
If it got cold or threatened to rain, Orla would come out of the house and fetch them in. They would then drink hot chocolate in the kitchen and listen to music on the new radio that stood on the shelf above the sideboard like a silver house with blue-glass windows. Orla would sing along to the songs she knew, and Wilbur, both embarrassed and enraptured, would lower his gaze while, beneath the table, his feet danced wildly to the beat.
This music seemed strange to Conor, as did the books piled up in Wilbur’s room. He listened to it with the astonished reverence and suppressed enthusiasm with which explorers register the mating call of a hitherto unknown beast. The U2 song Desire blasted away his normally simple needs, opening up tunnels deep within him through which brightness flooded, as well as confusion and desire. Filled with hot chocolate and music, he would sit on his chair, his fingers tapping feverishly, his mouth open, as if to swallow the sounds. Sometimes, forgetting himself, he closed his eyes, and his head would jerk forward or back, and his ears, ideally designed to receive the sounds, glowed. If, in the short silences between tracks, he opened his eyes, he would go all red and hide behind his cup, the glaze of which echoed the colouring of turf.
Orla would look at the friends with mixed feelings. She was pleased for Wilbur, who needed someone who was not more than fifty years his senior, a companion, with whom he could talk about things he did not discuss with her, and in whose company he could discover that he was not the only boy in the world who was confronted daily with new mysteries of the universe. But she regretted, too, that she had to share her grandson with Conor, that he no longer wanted to spend all of his time with her. To the extent that the hours they shared seemed to lose importance for him, they gained in meaning for Orla. The afternoons and Sundays when Conor failed to show became even more precious for her, and if they built a new town together or drove through the countryside in their blue car, she savoured every moment as if it were the last. At night, she would often remain awake for hours, sitting at Wilbur’s bed, looking at him, or lying in the folding bed that Wilbur had insisted on acquiring as he worried about her back, listening to the sounds that the sleeping child made.
There were times when she would stand at the window and, fighting the tears, look at the hill on which the two boys would sit. Then she would turn away, make hot chocolate and remind herself that Wilbur was only eight and that it could be another seven years, at least, before he would start going on pub-crawls with Conor or other local lads, and would become interested in girls and do foolish things.

Published in: Martin Zingg (ed.), New Swiss Writing, Solothurn 2008

Original extract in: Rolf Lappert, Nach Hause schwimmen, Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2008

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Swimming Home – Reviews

These reviews from German-language sources make use of the terms Bildungsroman (also used in English) and Entwicklungsroman – both of which denote  novels concerned with the intellectual or spiritual development of the main character


“This almost-fairytale Bildungsroman shows wrestling with experience not to have been in vain”
Walter van Rossum, ZEIT, 10.07.2008


“Rolf Lappert has written a magnificent Irish-American novel with no obvious equivalent in contemporary literature written in German … A cornucopia of both big and small stories.”
Rainer Moritz, Welt Online, 28.06.08


“This is not one book, but many small books in one large one. “Swimming Home”  tells a thousand stories revolving round this unhappy person, Wilbur. Each individual story is both heavy and light – will make you laugh and make you cry. (…) A book that makes the reading experience almost addictive. I was so enthralled, I wished I could have read it in a oner.”
Christine Westermann, Frau TV im WDR, 04.06.2008


“Swimming Home” is a mad and fascinating fairytale which, however tragic, is given a conciliatory ending, a happy ending, by its author. At the same time, Rolf Lappert succeeds in writing in such a way that, even if we sneak a look at the  final pages, we want to keep reading because the book is written so well. That is rare.
Bayerisches Fernsehen, Lese:zeichen, 27.04.2008


“The Swiss author, who also writes screenplays, has all the virtues of a really good craftsman. His novel is a masterpiece. … Lappert has any number of droll ideas, kept under control by a strong plot. He finds wonderful words for things, has great turns of phrase, writes wonderful sentences. And he finds a laconic tone for his novel which he modulates masterfully.”
Meike Fessmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15.03.08


“Rolf Lappert’s hero is completely neurotic, but so charming that even after a few pages you want to know what happens to him. But not only Wilbur captures the reader’s heart, Lappert’s language does, too: the Swiss author creates the most beautiful metaphors. The way he plays with language and his powers of invention are reminiscent of masters such as John Irving. In short: this fantastic Entwicklungsroman has all the makings of an absolute favourite book.”
Elke Serwe, Für Sie, 15.03.08


“What a courageous book – and what an achievement. A novel written with unparalleled narrative generosity: rock-solid, powerfully told, and boldly imagined.”
Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 19.02.08


“A masterpiece. … The surprise of the Spring releases is a Swiss author: Rolf Lappert. A highly-talented storyteller who, out of the blue, has landed a  great Entwicklungsroman… This is the art of storytelling at its best, far-reaching and resonant, embracing many lives, and portraying characters memorably and with great economy.”
Christine Richard, Basler Zeitung, 07.02.08


Reviews translated by Donal McLaughlin

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