As unfathomable as the sea
In this novel Schröder has brilliantly and menacingly depicted the fascination for the ocean deeps. He conjures up the Posen with stark clarity. You feel the wind, the sharp light, and the slow swell of the sea. His sentences flow, tinkling, crystal-clear and calm. Above all Schröder is a master at creating atmosphere. However clear and calm his sentences may be, below the surface yawn the dark depths.
On board the Posen Count Von Karsch encounters two passengers, who between them embody the ideas which erupted into conflict in Europe in the twentieth century. Amilcar Moser, a vulgar saltpetre merchant, who wants to do away with Schöngeisterei, mysticism and philosophy, and Ernst Totleben, a homosexual classicist and devotee of dead, ‘decadent’ writers and their fateful views. Beside them Karsch seems insignificant: ‘I am nothing, he quotes from Pessoa. I shall never be anything. I can never even want to be anything.’ His journey does seem to acquire meaning, however, when a lady, Asta Maris, comes aboard in Lisbon and Karsch falls prey to a blazing infatuation. But it is short-lived. Moser and Totleben leave the ship for mysterious reasons en route, and Asta Maris scarcely appears any longer. By the end of the voyage Karsch too has become a ‘Totleben’– and the Posen a kind of Flying Dutchman.
In his novel Allard Schröder has described the empty life of an apparently insignificant man. But he has done this so fantastically and irresistibly that Count Van Karsch’s life nevertheless acquires meaning. The Hydrographer is a gem of a historical novel.