Publication: 25 January 2018 from Orion
You’d die for your family. But would you kill for them?
Family is everything. So what if yours was being terrorised by a neighbour – a man who doesn’t listen to reason, whose actions become more erratic and sinister with each passing day? And those you thought would help – the police, your lawyer – can’t help you.
You become afraid to leave your family at home alone. But there’s nothing more you can do to protect them.
I’m not sure quite what I was expecting from Dirk Kurbjuweit’s book, but it certainly wasn’t what I got. If I’m honest, I suppose what I expected was a hyped up thriller full of dark menace in which men, women and children cowered in a corner in fear of their lives from a frighteningly menacing monster.
Fear is not that book. It is altogether more subtle and nuanced and by far the better for it. It is fictional, but based on a stalking experience that the writer has himself lived through.
This book is set in Germany, but I know from my own (one step removed) experience how worrying stalking is and what a traumatic impact stalkers can have on the day to day lives of their victims. It is difficult for the law in the UK to stop such events when no violence per se is attached. The stalking laws have done much to try and change that, but it hasn’t and will not, stop those who are mentally unwell from pursuing their course of action.
Randolph Tiefenthaler, the protagonist of Fear, grew up with a father who spent all his money on guns. His father would take him to the shooting range every weekend, but Randolph didn’t enjoy it. In truth, he was afraid of guns and concerned that his father kept them in the house, loaded.
It wasn’t that his father was not a good father; he was, although he could be very taciturn and distant. But Randolph could not help but harbour a fear that one day those guns might cause real harm to him or his family.
Now Randolph is married with two young children of his own. He is married to Rebecca, a lovely, bright woman who had a fascinating career of her own working on the human genome project, but gave it up to care for her children.
He is an architect, building up a one man practice and he and his family have moved into a new ground floor apartment in Berlin. Dieter Tiberius is living in and renting the basement apartment. Dieter is a strange character who turns into a threatening one when he accuses the parents of sexually abusing their children.
Fear deals with the family’s experience and looks closely at the impact on everyone involved. Though we know from the beginning of the book what the outcome is, and how it was arrived at, we see the devastating impact that the stalker brings to friends, family and even the children.
All this is examined in quiet, thoughtful detail, bringing a truthfulness and honesty to the book that both surprises and makes it far more than a standard thriller.
Written as a first person narrative, Randolph is our protagonist and we come to know him well during the book. In truth, he has more in common with his father than perhaps he will admit.
The questions raised by Fear are serious and very worthy of debate. Can violence ever be justified? When a person’s mental health is involved should the law be ignored? Dirk Kurbjuweit’s book would be a great one for book clubs.
Overall, a very thoughtful examination of one man’s helplessness as the rule of law that he has signed up to lets him down time and again. How he reacts to his situation will define who he is.
Fear asks questions about society, privilege and nature versus nurture. Thus the ending is far more shocking than you expect.
An immersive, gripping read that will keep me thinking for months to come.
About Dirk Kurbjuweit
Dirk Kurbjuweit is deputy editor-in-chief at Der Spiegel, where he has worked since 1999, and divides his time between Berlin and Hamburg. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Egon Erwin Kisch Prize for journalism, and is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels, many of which, including Fear, have been adapted for film, television and radio in Germany. Fear is the first of his works to be translated into English.