As Wolfi is telling his story I become more and more uneasy. When he finishes Andrea gets up without comment. She puts her book in her bag and slips the strap over her shoulder. She picks up the tray with her now empty plates.
Before she leaves she turns to me and says: Thank you for last night.
Nothing in the tone of what she says allows me to gauge whether this is meant positively or negatively. It is, in fact, goodbye. I fail to see the connection between these two incidents.
Forster’s exhortation to the novelist was that he must ‘connect’/ ‘Only connect’ he said. Forster did not say ‘he or she’. This is significant. It tells us a lot about Forster, the fact that he used the word ‘he’.
In my effort to find the connection between Wolfi’s retelling of the incident on the bus and Andrea’s enigmatic farewell, I missed, at least initially, the connection between Andrea’s presence and the conversation with Wolfi that followed.
Retrospectively then, it is not Andrea’s disappearance which is significant but the fact that she was there in the first place. And yet I’m sure the two events, Andrea’s presence and Wolfi’s subsequent conversation are, in reality, totally disconnected. Their connection is only illusory, due to something Wolfi calls “die Elision proximatischer Zufalligkeit’ [the elision of proximate coincidence].
But I resent the fact that for apparent reasons of narrative logic a real person seems to have been dropped out of my life, has, as it were, been dispensed with now that she has fulfilled the fictional role assigned to her. The thing is, I still miss her. I try to imagine her at some stage walking into a bookstore, browsing through the books on the shelves, selecting one, this one. She buys it, takes it home. As she reads is she comes to the section which begins: ‘I am sitting in the university dining room with a friend. Her name is Andrea Staiger’
Komisch, she says, ich heisse Andrea Staiger. that’s my name.
At first she is prepared to accept it as pure coincidence. But what if she had read ‘Unterestrasse’, what then?
[Ich glaub’ das nicht.] I don’t believe it, she says. That was my address. I see her racking her brains, trying to remember what may have been one of many chance encounters in her past. She rereads the passage describing our love-making. Perhaps she really can’t remember. And yet there is a vague memory, a memory of a conversation one sunny morning in the market place, sitting on the window sill of the Town Hall. A photograph.
Yes, now I remember… How strange to come across oneself in a work of fiction!
Out of the Line of Fire (1988) was the first experimental novel I read written by an Australian author. (It is written by Mark Henshaw, who has hardly written anything since – where are you, Mr Henshaw?). It was very exciting as a read, particularly as I was still learning German at the time and whole sections of it are written in German. It’s difficult to find good quotes from the novel because it’s more a game of form than words. Henshaw is preoccupied with reality, story-telling, language, translation and sex. What’s not to like?