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.

22 thoughts on “Hansjörg Schertenleib: A Happy Man – Der Glückliche (2005)

  1. It sounds charming, although I would struggle with having a character named This – unless there’s a conscious ploy going on here, with the narrator inviting the reader to look at This with a knowing smile?

    • Luckily I read it in German or the name would have annoyed me. It’s a translation problem. “This Studer” sounds quite OK in German but I agree, it’s bordering on silly in English. Sine he has never been translated before, I suppose he just didn’t take this into consideration. I bet he will from now on. 🙂

  2. Sound like a book that might provide some relief in this sometimes crazy world.

    Perhaps I am reading too much into this as I read your commentary but I could not help thinking about the smiling Hanged Man of the Tarot deck.

  3. Is this the only book of his that has been translated? I’d not heard of him before. It sounds like a book to read with a little soft jazz music playing in the background. I agree with Litlove, though, the name might feel weird in my mind while reading.

    • Yes, it’s the only one. I don’t listen to music much when I read but it would have benn perfect in this case.
      The name is badly chosen, I don’t ususally like too many liberies in translations but it would have made sense to change that name.

  4. Yes, we had a flottante in France this year, and I know what you mean but hadn’t thought of applying it to books before. This sounds an interesting read. There are a lot of translations being published these days – I wonder how many of them can flourish? I have one sponsored by the Polish Arts Council at the moment but it just seems a little too obscure to make any impact over in the UK where our home-grown market is so vast.

    • It’s somtimes hard to come up with a description of a book and for some reason the whole time I was writing this review I was thinking of that dessert although I’m not even much of a dessert eater.
      I really don’t now how the translations will do. I got he impression there is more interest than before.

  5. I love the îles flottantes as a dessert, probably my favourite one. And I enjoy reading that kind of book from time to time.

    But it’s not available in French. Too bad.

  6. Nice review, Caroline! Is the main character’s first name ‘This’? That is really interesting. ‘The Rain Orchestra’ is a very beautiful title. I hope they translate it too. ‘A Happy Man’ seems to have some hidden surprises. ‘île flottante’ sounds like a delicious dessert. I want to try it sometime. Thanks for this nice review.

    • Thanks, Vishy. ‘This’ is his first name. I bought the book The Rain Orchestra because of the tite and I really liked it.
      A Happy Man has an unexpected ending. If you’ve never had île flottante you should try it. It’s not difficult to make. I’m not much of a dessert perosn but that and the Italian panna cotta are nice.

  7. sounds like a nice book. a happy man’s life is a rare topic…mostly depressed and troublesome.

    I am not really into jazz tho…is there a posibility I won’t like it? 😉

    • I’m not into jazz but still liked it. You are certainly right, there are not all that many books who describe happy people. It’s also a topic in the book, the fact that people react suspicious when someone is happy all the time that they think they are boring. It’s interesting.

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