Hansjörg Schertenleib: A Happy Man – Der Glückliche (2005)

Hansjörg Schertenleib is a Swiss author who received a lot of praise for his novels. Das Zimmer der Signora (The Room of the Signora) which has not been translated is one of the most famous. I’ve read Das Regenorchester (The Rain Orchestra), which has equally not been translated and which I liked a lot. He has written many more.

This Studer, the main protagonist in  Schertenleib’s airy novella A Happy ManDer Glückliche, is a jazz trumpeter and known for his somewhat enigmatic smile which puzzles and annoys those who meet him equally. Why does this man smile constantly? Is it possible to be this happy all the time?

This Studer is indeed happy most of the time. He loves his wife of twenty years just like he did when he met her, he loves jazz and his career as trumpeter and all the  joys this offers, like the trip to Amsterdam of which the novella tells us. Since This is not only of a sunny disposition but quite chatty and likable, he has many friends, one of them lives in Amsterdam and has invited him for a couple of concerts.

In the evening the friends play at a club, during the day This wanders the streets of Amsterdam, explores the city and has an uncanny encounter with a homeless man and his dog, an encounter which reminds him of something that happened in  his childhood and which shows that even this sunny man has some hidden darkness to hide.

What makes A Happy Man special is the narrative technique which reminded me of much older novels. There is a narrator who guides us into and out of the story, like a camera man, telling us to look at This now, to watch him and to leave him alone again in the end. I was afraid at first this would make for heavy reading but in the central part of the story, the narrator is in the background, just makes some comments occasionally.

I deliberately called this novella ‘airy’. ‘Breezy’ would have been apt as well. It’s like the dessert île flottante (floating island), which consists of floating egg white. If you have ever had that dessert, you will know what I mean. Fluffy, but not too sweet. And so is this novella; charming but not too cute. No literary heavyweight, that’s for sure, just a pleasant read. And if you like jazz, you might enjoy this even more.