Penelope Fitzgerald

At the age of 48, after thirty years of lecturing on German literature and writing radio plays, Gert Hofmann began to produce disconcerting novels. Michael Hofmann, his son, the poet, confronted him head-on in his collection, Acrimony, and in 1987 wrote in the LRB (25 June) about the second of the novels to be translated into English, Our Conquest. This covers the first two days of peace in a small town in Germany, and follows an ambiguous group of children, free at last to get out of the cellars and poke round the secrets of their own streets. ‘The point is not character revealing itself in action, it is not even ... the abrupt revelation of one particular horror, it is the process – as elsewhere in my father’s work – of the curious, obsessive and mechanical mind digging round in a soft and disordered world.’ The Film Explainer, which takes place in the same hometown of Limbach, in Saxony, seems at first sight to be a more innocent and comic story and a gentler one, but after reading it you feel the same chill.

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