Cover of Wagenknecht

WAGENKNECHT: ALL MEN crack up at forty

Jeff Weston, Thinkwell Books, £10

If William Wagenknecht was one of my clients, I would probably be having extra supervision and adopting a stance similar to the picture on the front cover of this novel. Just as Wagenknecht ‘the client’ could be a challenge to ‘therapeutically read’, so too the book is a challenge. I felt at times that I was slogging through Wagenknecht’s rambling ruminations and numerous notes to famous philosophers and almost gave up; but then I was captivated by his thought processes, willing him to push on and longing to know what he would do next.

We meet Wagenknecht at a stage in his life where he has begun to quarrel with everyone. We have an interesting insight into the psyche of a man who is figuring out who he was, is, and dreams to be. Although I’m not convinced that ‘all men crack up at 40’, this novel does highlight the challenges potentially faced by men of this age in terms of the multiple demands of being a husband, father, career man and also staying true to your own dreams. Wagenknecht feels scattered, frazzled and spent, and in this floundering state, he is unable to firmly place his ‘skin in the game’. He spends a lot of time thinking and muttering, and his internal monologue feels painfully suffocating at times.

The novel begins with a short prologue, perhaps an echo of Wagenknecht’s playwriting past. He feels like his brain has ‘de-frosted’ and his metaphysical tendencies have been infused. Wagenknecht’s journey has three parts: ‘The Fall’, ‘The Past’ and ‘The Crawl’. I love the fact that the final part of the novel has such physicality about its title, as it really does sum up the way in which Wagenknecht is trying to move cognitively, emotionally and physically.

Upon conclusion, we begin to see a new Wagenknecht emerging – he feels a little freer, and realises the importance of learning to concentrate well. He sees that the speed of life has broken him in places; it’s always ‘next, next’ instead of ‘reflect’. I love how the novel ends with the simple words: ‘Hello William’. Although these words are spoken by his new love connection, it feels like William is almost saying ‘hello’ to himself, finding ways to push the ‘…philosophers’ voices in his head to one side’ and moving forward, despite ‘the butterflies and trepidation’ that ‘guzzle him’. Isn’t this the very place we can get to with our clients sometimes; where we feel the triumph of someone stepping bravely into a moment of vulnerability that might just free them from the bindings that trap them?

Review by: Elisabeth Hughes MBACP (Accred), counsellor in private practice and the HE sector in Liverpool


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