Tomorrow, Berlin by Oscar Coop-Phane

Many thanks, first off, to the Arcadia Books team for publishing this beautiful little book, to George Miller whose translation from the French is a work of real excellence, and to Oscar for continuing to write such great novellas. It’ll be out on 17th September, so keep an eye out for this gorgeous little hardback!

9781910050460Having read Oscar’s first prize-winning offering, Zenith Hotel, which is simply fantastic, and having met him, drank with him, and smoked many cigarettes with him, it was with some trepidation that I started Tomorrow, Berlin. Think of how many times you have read one work by an author, likely their début as well, been bowled over by its skill and delighted by the story, only to be left feeling flat by their next offering. Now think how relieved I must be to find that this was even better than the first.

I usually include it anyway, but this time I think the publishers’ blurb gives you a great idea of what you get in this novella:

‘Berlin. A city where nightclubs stay open from Friday night til Monday morning. A city with an underbelly as dark and addictive as the 24-hour drugs, drinking, dancing and sex in filthy toilets that it serves up. Three young men, from different backgrounds, meet here by chance, struggling to find a future and to escape from the past.
Tobias was violated as a child and tossed from one city to another by separated parents. Now he’s got AIDS and can find only fleeting happiness with a new lover.
Armand fled from his middle-class family home to live as a painter and set up house with a high-school sweetheart. Tugged between expectations, desire and responsibilities, he flees to give release his artistic soul. But at what cost?
Franz was raised in a good, wealthy German family and believed he was capable of achieving anything he wanted. A job in a nightclub leads him into the Berlin underworld, where his life takes an unexpected turn and he is threatened with ruin.
Berlin promises both escape and salvation for these three young men, in a stunning coming-of-age story by award-winning author Oscar Coop-Phane. With grace and affection, he depicts a cast of flawed characters whose lives spiral downwards, their lifestyles drawing them into a grimy abyss that threatens to eclipse them. A literary masterpiece, Tomorrow, Berlin is a compelling ode to youth and desire, and a stark reminder that escape can only ever be an illusion.’

‘A literary masterpiece’. A bold claim, but to my mind, an accurate one. The writing, its style in particular, is the real star of this work. You can see in it the author’s former ambition to paint; the characters are outlined, then built upon layer by layer by the distanced third-person narrator. ‘Show, don’t tell’ might be a somewhat tired aphorism of authorial advice, but here it encapsulates Oscar’s technique rather neatly. Scenes are shown, and readers are given a window into the characters’ lives as they live them. They seem real, not just in their flaws, their hypocrisies and their humanity, but in the way the author treats them: with affection and in celebration of their natural dignity. This is quite an achievement when talking about three lost young men who turn to drugs and the techno scene. *Sidenote: Techno is completely loathsome; I’m not surprised that people need to take drugs to enjoy it.* In particular, it is the ability to do all this without showing sympathy, or advocating selling drugs, letting your partner take the fall with the police, or abandoning your family. Oscar never tells you what to think of his characters, but gives you everything you could possibly want to think and imagine for yourself.

What I particularly enjoyed about Tomorrow, Berlin is the serenity experienced in its reading. There is something reassuring about being placed in the hands of an author with reliable quality. Further, the voice, which remains delightfully French thanks to a great translation, is fresh and engaging to an English reader. You’ll easily read it in one enraptured sitting, and you’ll be left wide-eyed, partly because the ending feels like a swift knee to the gut … but in a good way, but mostly because it will be difficult for you, no matter how much you’ve read, to believe how good it is. You’ll want to read it again straight away; you’ll want to keep it on your bookshelf forever; you’ll want to boast that you read Oscar Coop-Phane before it became cool. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait long to do that.

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