A penetrating urban novella
Bart Moeyaert’s new novel Graz was sparked by a repeat visit to that Austrian city at the invitation of the Graz Literary House, in a hotel room with a view. In the novella, the author projects himself in the fictitious figure of Herman Eichler, the business manager of ‘Zum guten Hirten’ pharmacy opposite the hotel. The man is unmarried, stable, orderly and precise, a model of reliability. To his customers he gives much-appreciated support and good advice. He describes himself as ‘a good soul, an honest soul’ as well as ‘a poor searching soul’. In reality he is timid and has difficulty making contact.
With women, even forward ones, he remains reserved. His father’s authority weighs him down and when the pharmacy is renovated, he is unable to remove the old-fashioned name from the windows.
One day, right in front of the pharmacy a girl falls off her bicycle. He picks up the casualty’s wallet and finds that it was not a girl but a boy. This knocks the pharmacist sideways and emotions suppressed deep down begin to stir. That evening he grows restless and, in the night, unable to sleep and driven by curiosity, he decides to deliver the wallet to the boy’s address. On the way back, he allows himself to be seduced into a short sexual encounter with a man. Next morning he is still shaken up and no longer quite himself in his dealings with the neighbours. It makes him realize how distressing his isolation and loneliness are.
Bart Moeyaert’s prose excels in its subtlety. Without actually naming emotions or referring directly to them, his description of ostensibly unimportant actions and behaviour skilfully evoke subdued longings. The city of Graz with its monuments forms an appealing backdrop to a series of walks undertaken by Eichler, one in the past during the daytime, and now a risky one in the present, at night. These are hesitant attempts to break free of his prescribed, apparently harmonious existence.
Eichler, pathetic, pitiful yet endearing, gradually wins the heart of the reader. Graz is an extraordinarily attractive urban novel in which Bart Moeyaert plucks at the heartstrings.