During powerful winter storms the North Sea tosses its full weight against the coast of East Anglia, and little by little the land disappears into the waves. High atop the cliff, Ludwig Unger lives with his mother; with every winter that passes the sea comes a little closer.
Ludwig is the child of two celebrities, predestined to be the continuation – raised to the umpteenth power – of both their talents. In his mother’s ambitious dreams, he is already a concert pianist. At the moment, however, he plays for a living in cocktail bars, and in the course of three nights he tells his life’s story to a woman.
I’m in two minds about Caesarion. I did like reading it but at the same time I didn’t know what it was all about. That’s a peculiar feeling. Usually I either like a book or don’t like it, I know whether it is good or not, but in this case, I only know it was entertaining but…
Something is missing and I cannot put my finger on it. It was original and trite at the same time. An odd combination. I think the worst was, that I had no feeling for Ludwig. He wanted to make us believe that his life was tragic but I simply didn’t feel it, on the contrary, I found him annoying. The voice and the character didn’t seem to go together well and I’m not sure at all whether Wieringa did like Ludwig or not… If he wanted to portray a sexist jerk, he did well, but if he felt sympathetic towards Ludwig, he failed. At the same time one could ask whether Wieringa did intentionally choose to portray gender bias or whether it was rather accidental.
At the beginning of the novel Ludwig is on his way to England to a funeral. In the evenings he plays the piano in a bar, meets a woman and tells her the story of his life. Ludwig was born in Egypt, his mother, a former porn star, has been left by his father, an eccentric egotistic artist. They live in Alexandria until his mother decides she wants to go back to Europe and packs all their belongings. They first go to the Netherlands, his mother’s home country, where she isn’t welcome. She goes to England, leaving Ludwig behind but eventually has him follow her to East Anglia where they will live in a cottage precariously close to the eroding cliff.
The relationship between mother and son is quite strange, incestuous one could say, as Ludwig desires his mother. She loves to dress and make him up like a girl and her touch and warmth arouse him. It seems that she isn’t even aware of this but he is and struggles to get free. One attempt to free himself is to engage in ways that are meant to assure he becomes more traditionally masculine and that is why he joins a rugby team.
When Ludwig turns twenty the thing that everyone expected happens, their house is swiped off the cliff in a storm. At the same time Ludwig finds out about his mothers past as a porn star and even sees the movies. Shortly after this his mother leaves for L.A.. Ludwig manages to track her down and follows her everywhere, pretending he wants to take care of her. His mother is working in the porn industry again and Ludwig disapproves a lot. He meets a nice girl but she breaks up with him when he follows his mother to Vienna and then Prague. Ludwig’s constant nagging depresses his mother and one day she tells him that he has to leave, she cannot stand his accusing presence anymore.
Ludwig starts drifting through life, working as a bar pianist, engaging in love affairs with elderly and old women until he reunites with his mother again after a few years. She is living in Tunisia and has left the porn industry or rather, she has been fired. The reason for this is a oozing spot on her breast which is obviously malignant. Ludwig’s mother must know that it is cancer but she is in denial and even though she finally gives in and has it diagnosed she doesn’t have it treated traditionally but starts travelling through Europe looking for a magical cure. The moaning Ludwig follows her everywhere. When it becomes obvious that his mother will die, the two finally settle down in the Netherlands.
The last chapters lead Ludwig to Panama where he tries to find his father.
It is a very readable book and I would like to read Wieringa’s highly acclaimed Joe Speedboat but I didn’t really get the point of Caesarion. There were so many parts that felt familiar, where I was thinking, that I had read this before. The last part in Panama, for example, reminded me of Max Frisch’s Homo Faber.
The part I liked the most and the one that touched me was the beginning in England. It was done very well but from then on the novel started to turn into hotchpotch. I was wondering whether he wrote this novel over a long period, stopping in between, which could explain why it didn’t feel seamless.
Overall it seemed to have been a re-imagining of the tales of Oedipus and Odysseus. I didn’t like Ludwig at all but then again, is it necessary to like the main character? I don’t think so, but I hated the way he desired his mother and at the same hated her and sabotaged everything she wanted for him (becoming a concert pianist, for example) or whatever she did for herself. It is as if he blamed her for having been left by his father and for being too attractive. And at the end, when she falls ill, he behaves as if it was justified and she deserved it. All her life she has been exploited because of her body and now this body turns itself against her, and all Ludwig does is hate her for not letting anyone cut her open.
If you are interested in another view, here’s the review from A Common Reader.