Whereas Grunberg described the world of paid love and escort services in his first novel, Blauwe maandagen, here he describes the film world. The protagonist Ewald Stanislas Krieg and his two friends, the eccentric Broccoli and the inaccessible Elvira, have ‘heard the call of Hollywood’ and make futile efforts to become rich and famous. What follows is a hilarious but humiliating journey through casting agencies, alternative youth theatre and the odd supporting role: ‘In the script they called the part I had to play Pimply Kid.’
Seemingly doomed to eternally playing silent extras, the threesome steadfastly continue to pursue brilliant careers, because then they will ‘finally know where they belong’. With a sentence like this Grunberg exposes the true motives of his characters. Both Ewald and Broccoli are pursued by their families’ wartime experiences and remain forever passers-by. The only solution is to be independent of other people: by earning a lot of money, for example. Broccoli’s aged father is a sad case of the results of that solution, and his advice is: ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about whether people like me or not.’ Ewald seems to have followed his example; years later we see him in New York as a real estate agent, a money-grubber, who is empty inside: ‘I don’t relax,’ says Ewald. ‘I’ll relax in my grave.’
Neither the main character’s indifference nor the irresistible wit can camouflage the book’s underlying tone, which is one of desperation. In Figuranten the tragedy emerges from the dry humour with which the world is viewed. With this masterly novel, Arnon Grunberg proves to be one of the most promising writers of his generation.