Death Drives an Audi – Kristin Bang Foss
Kristian Bang Foss’s comic road-novel gets off to a flying start with that title. Death, you can imagine, probably does drive an Audi. The rest of the less fortunate mortals found in the Danish writer’s hugely entertaining and thoughtful prize-winning satire, drive a somewhat less glamorous vehicle, although they all seem to be heading in the same ominous direction. Which – in geographical terms at least – is away from a grim housing estate in Copenhagen to the apparently rather more exotic destination of Morocco. There are however many incidents along the way,
This kind of journey certainly didn’t figure in the plans of Asger, who is an advertising executive when things suddenly take a turn for the worse during the 2008 financial crisis. Living in Copenhagen with Sara and her daughter Amalie, it all starts going downhill after an advertising campaign quickly thrown together at the last minute goes badly wrong and Asger finds himself in quick succession out of work, out of home and out of luck. He doesn’t cope well with the adjustment in lifestyle, putting on weight, drinking too much through late nights and rapidly finding himself running out of money.
He’s about to find out that there are worse places you could be. Taking a job as carer for the disabled, he is assigned to Waldemar, a 22 year old man with so many illnesses and conditions that it’s improbable that he is still alive. The last carer didn’t last and you begin to see why. It’s not that Waldemar is particularly demanding – although understandably he has his moments – but the insalubrious district of Stentofte, where “hatred oozed out of the concrete” of the housing blocks, does tend to drag your spirits down. Like Waldemar, it seems a place without hope.
In Asger and Kristin Bang Foss’s view, life there however seems to consist of a series of grimly comic situations. Asger’s new indignities include shopping at Aldi with the hopeless living on benefits and state care. It’s an education as well, as everyone, including Waldemar, seems to know how to work the system and gain the most from the benefits and subsidies that are available. Much as Asger used to know his around tax deductibles, as the novel satirically observes, and initial disdain for a life scrabbling though one miserable day after another turns gradually to grudging admiration.
Whatever the reason is, Asger and Waldemar hit it off. They have the same tastes in trash reality TV and same sense of humour. Where they don’t initially see eye-to-eye is in a hair-brained idea Waldemar has to travel to Morocco to see a healer Torbi el Mekki. Realising it’s a chance for both of them to get out of Stentofte even if it means inevitably ending in disappointment, they manage to get sponsorship, buy a VW van and set off across Europe from Denmark to warmer climates and warmer people. They just have to keep an eye out along the way for a certain driver of an Audi.
Death Drives an Audi (that’s a bit of a give-away) is a deceptively light read. It breezily follows two unlikely figures on a typical road-movie adventure, a journey of self-discovery and amusing incidents. It’s not hard however to see the slightly darker vein of satire underlying the book, hitting the mark very astutely on the indignities that are endured by the forgotten and neglected in western society. The writing – superbly translated by Caroline Waight – is also an absolute delight, never relying on a simple metaphor but finding unique and colourful turns of phrase to describe the misery and the beauty, the absurd and the ineffable.
Death Drives an Audi by Kristin Bang Foss received the European Union Prize for Literature in 2013 and is published in English for the first time by Parthian Books. Its satire of the post-financial crisis on those less able to bear the impact is no less relevant today in the time of growing use of foodbanks, but there is also some fine writing, great characters and plenty of bizarre incident and situations with a Nordic sense of humour and absurdity that makes this just a wonderful read.
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