David Midgley

  • Tod eines Kritikers by Martin Walser
    Suhrkamp, 219 pp, €19.90, June 2002, ISBN 3 518 41378 3

At the end of May, Frank Schirrmacher, an editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, declared in an open letter that he had refused to serialise Martin Walser’s novel Tod eines Kritikers, or ‘Death of a Critic’, on the grounds that it was a ‘document of hatred’, a fantasy ‘execution’ of the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki. In Walser’s book a novelist called Hans Lach is under arrest on suspicion of murdering André Ehrl-König, critic and host of a TV book programme, who had excoriated Lach’s work on his show. Reich-Ranicki was the presenter of Das Literarische Quartett, a TV programme which ran throughout the 1990s. His distinctive Polish accent and peremptory manner made him a household name, but also a natural target for imitation as well as anger. He had previously been literary editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and for at least three decades authors he criticised have given vent to their anger, frustration and loathing in their work; there has been at least one example of an imagined obituary (by Helmut Heißenbüttel in 1988). But Schirrmacher claimed to have detected something more sinister in Walser’s narrative.

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