Tommy Wieringa: Caesarion (2009)

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 wanted to read at least two novels for Iris’ Dutch Literature Month but so far I only managed Tommy Wieringa’s novel Caesarion that I discovered on Lizzy’s Literary Life.

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.

19 thoughts on “Tommy Wieringa: Caesarion (2009)

    • Thank God, no C-sections. I wonder what gave you that impression. No, I’m not too enthusiastic but maybe I was overcritical. A Common Reader had his reservations too, like me, he liked reading it but found it flawed, not as flawed as I did, but still. I read Ttat Joe Speedboat should be very good.

  1. Hm.. I think this review made me deside that I will try Joe Speedboat before I try this one. I don’t know, reading your description of the book it makes me doubt if I would enjoy it. A son desiring his mother and the constant wining of the main character? You’re right, it’s not always necessary to like the main character, but in this case and at this time, I don’t think I would enjoy the book much.

    And I am very glad you participated. Plus, you have been so very nice in promoting the month. Also, I wouldn’t have “met” your blog otherwise, or it would have taken a little while longer. And I am incredibly glad I have. Thank you.

    • Thank you for the nice comment, Iris. I’m glad you had the idea for this month and would have loved to partcipate more. But, as said, there is another review upcoming and that one was a winner. But then everything Nooteboom wrote is so good. I’m also glad I discovered your blog.
      I felt somewhat bad about this review but I really didn’t like Ludwig but you can see that Wieringa has a lot of potential. The part with the cliff house is so good. I’m really curious to read what you will think of Joe Speedboat. I will read it as well, that’s for sure.

  2. I think I’m going to pass on this one. (what’s a c-section?)

    Thanks for pointing Nooteboom to me, I’m reading Rituals and like it very much so far.

    • I think you can safely leave it out. C-section is a Caesarean, I posted the comment and then I realized that it was, of course, the title that made him think that. The title is Ludwig’s pet name, the same name Caesar’s and Cleopatra’s son had. I’m so glad you like Nooteboom. Rituelen is one book I really want to re-read.

      • And Ludwig was the son of two celebrities. You seem spot on with your references to mythology, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

        About Nooteboom. Do you like Philippe Djian? Nooteboom sounds like Djian. A lot.

        • I’m really sure he did some mixing in of mythology. I’m absolutely not fond of the Oedipus story or of what has become of it through Freud etc. Funny enough it is a book I would have loved to discuss with someone who has read it as well. Nooteboom sounds like Djian? Really? I do like Djian but find them very different. Funny enough I finished my Nooteboom on Sunday and just bought “Ardoise” today. The book about those writers who influenced Djian. Not sure when I will get to it. I wonder whether the translator contributed to make them sound similar.

    • The book cover has absolutely nothing to do with the book. It’s very misleading. It’s really about a man who is sort of in love with his mother, has a problem with the father and travels all around the world to find some sort of meaning.

  3. From your description I know without doubt that this is NOT a book I would want to read – that’s always useful, though. Cuts one more off the list of thousands!

    I wanted also to tell you that the Jenn Ashworth arrived yesterday – thank you so much! It looks fantastic. I would have emailed you but just couldn’t find your email address. I thought I’d stored it but couldn’t track it down. Anyway, thank you very much!

    • That’s the good thing about blogging, isn’t it? Especially if you start to know what people like. I’m glad the Ashworh arrived. That took a long time though. I wanted to reply to your e-mail as well and will do shortly.

  4. I don’t deal well in the abstract when it comes to fiction, so I’m not sure this would be a good fit for me. I know that feeling of uncertainty and not being entirely sure what the author is trying to accomplish exactly–I think I like more straightforward stories. You’re very good at trying all sorts of books, and I do need to be better about that–reading outside my comfort zone. Not sure this will be the book I pick, however, when I’m ready for something different. 🙂

    • I can’t really read books that are too similar, i like to switch genres, countries, different styles. I think you read a wide variety as well. Maybe some recurring themes. I just started watching the first episode of Lilies and thought of you. I think you would love it. The accent is hard to understand though. I agree, if you want to realy read outside of your comfort zone, this isn’t the book to start with.

  5. I always love reading your review…very thorough. It does sound a bit unusual. What is it trying to tell?

    I know I will not put this book in my TBR list, thank you for sharing this review so that I can keep away from it

    • This wouldn’t be a book for you, I agree and I have no idea what he wanted to achieve and that was the biggest problem I had. It seemed to me very old-fashioned. A boy needs to grow up with his father in order to become a “real” man not desire his own mother or something like that. Yuk.

  6. I felt when I read this ,have yet to review it got real backlog at moment ,that it was almost a two volumme book that had been shorten to a single book ,I enjoyed the us part more just as it showed the changing culture towards women getting older ,the relationship is a very strange one ,all the best stu

    • I’ll be very interested to read yur review. I liked the first part as it didn’t feel so rushed. later, fro the US part on, he just rushed through the book. It is too much Oedipus for me.

  7. Pingback: An Overview of Posts for Dutch Literature Month (2) | Iris on Books

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