A trenchant fable of angst and risk tolerance
In Peter Terrin’s first three novels, emotions are expressed largely in terms of alienation and oppression. In Women and Children First (2004), a team of engineers and technicians have to dismantle a tile production line in an abandoned factory abroad. They stay in a rundown hotel in a Kafkaesque existential isolation. In Crass (2001), three men, almost seventy years old, rape the lively young cleaning lady of their apartment block and then flee, unbridled and reckless. The transition from a normal life to complete disorder, caused by unexpected and unsuspected motives, is again the theme of Blanco, the novel which provides the best introduction to Peter Terrin’s work.
Viktor, a cell biologist working for the Ministry of Public Health, has difficulty in coming to terms with the death of his wife during a carjack. Nightmares disrupt his experience of reality. He is allowed to stay at home to continue research into the influence of environmental pollution on the workings of the cell. The disquieting results of his work are brushed aside at the Ministry, but, in his unstable state, he cultivates them until they turn him paranoid, radically altering his life and leading him to a tragic end.
To Victor, the outside world is full of acute danger. Initially, he is worried about the assumed lack of security at his son Igor’s school. He has the teacher followed because he does not trust him with children. The boy is expelled from school because, on his father’s instructions, he has carried a knife in order to defend himself. Subsequently, Victor barricades the two of them in their flat. He has bars installed in front of the windows, the doors are made burglar-proof, an air filter is installed. He locks his son in his room with a coded lock and only gives him food that is guaranteed safe. His extreme care and oppressive responsibility gradually turn into pure insanity. At a certain moment, he no longer realizes that his son has died. And is his wife dead and buried, or not? Peter Terrin forces the reader through this gradual process, which evolves from suppressed sorrow, via an unbearable sense of responsibility, to the unreasonable anxiety and desperation that causes Victor’s life to tragically disintegrate.
Terrin describes this process coolly and succinctly, with an exceptional eye for visual detail and apt formulation. The psychological oppression of the character, terrifyingly elaborated, remains in the reader’s mind long after the book is finished.