16-year old Mifti, the hero of the novel “Axolotl Roadkill” by Helene Hegemann, is a kind of female Holden Caulfield transferred in time and space to the early 21st century techno clubs of Berlin.
The book was a minor sensation when it came out in Germany in 2010, and the 17-old wunderkind author became the darling of a certain part of the literary feuilleton and media.
I read the book soon after it was published in Germany and was taken aback. What was hyped by some reviewers as the work of a new literary genius turned out to be 200-odd pages of revolting and not very well written fuck-and-vomit prose, mixed with half-digested (and quarter-understood) theory jargon, and the usual name-, label- and location-dropping that is supposed to excite a certain category of Berlin hipsters, but that is simply a sign for an inflated ego of the “author” (Regarding the “authorship” of this book see below). Rarely in my life was I bored more as when I was forcing myself through this book.
It turned out that a very big part of this so-called novel was plagiarized (without mentioning sources) from a variety of books and other texts. Only in later editions, the publisher mentioned all(?) sources. But “theft remains theft”, as the author Helmut Krausser remarked in this context, and to argue that everybody is doing it nowadays shows only a lack of reflection and hints at lustful self-deception.
A well-connected father (Herr Hegemann is a famous dramaturg in Berlin) who can pull a few strings in the publishing and media scene, a publishing house (Ullstein) that was a bit too eager to produce a new literary wunderkind, reviewers that in all seriousness praised the “authenticity” of the plagiarized novel and that are obviously blind when the author fulfills their two main quality criteria (“young and female”), and a girl that knew how to put together a novel mainly with the copy-and-paste function of her laptop – these are the ingredients of this case, the initial big success and the scandal that was following.
What Hegemann and her supporters seem not to understand until today is that there is a difference between intertextuality and plagiarism. That she (and even a reviewer in the “Guardian”) claims until today that she “took” just a few lines from other authors is appalling. I remember that in an article of the Frankfurter Allgemeine it was proved in detail that a very big part of the book is a mechanical copy of texts written by people other than Fräulein H.
Sorry when I sound a bit misogynic this time. But I found it extremely annoying that this rag of a book took so much attention from other much more worthy works of contemporary literature (also by female authors).
“Axolotl Roadkill” is interesting as a media phenomenon but not as a novel. Zero out of five stars. ‘Nuff said.
Helene Hegemann: Axolotl Roadkill, transl. by Katy Derbyshire, Constable & Robinson 2012
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