This recent book of the Austrian author Michael Köhlmeier, Zwei Herren am Strand (Hanser Verlag), spins a story about an imaginative friendship between Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. While there might not as be more different people than these two, in the book they are connected by a common fight – the fight against their own depression, explicitly as well as implicitly by fighting Nazi Germany.
Michael Köhlmeier’s recently released book Zwei Herren am Strand tells the fictive story of Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill meeting and becoming friends, helping each other fighting depression and suicide thoughts. Based on a bunch of (fictive) letters of a (fictive) private secretary of Churchill, as well as (fictive) book on Chaplin, the first person narrator dives into the interesting time of the mid-20ies to about the Second World War.
Chaplin is having a hard time after the divorce from his wife Rita, paired with the difficulties at the production of The Circus, and is contemplating suicide. He is conveying this fact to Churchill during a walk on the beach. Churchill is reminded of his own depressions he suffers from early age on. The two of them agree to make a pact fighting the “Black Dog” inside.
Later Churchill asks Chaplin about his method to overcome the phases of depression, and Chaplin explains him the “Method of the Clown”: Put a huge page of paper on the floor, lie yourself facing down onto the paper and start writing a letter to yourself while rotating clockwise and creating a spiral inward.
According to Chaplin, he took this method from Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (hard to verify), and it works by making oneself ridiculous, so that one part of oneself can laugh about the other part.
The story continues into the early stages of the world war, with both sides fighting Hitler, one politically, one by comedy. The story finishes somewhere in the middle when the two meet while Chaplin is in a deep depression during cutting his movie
The great dictator, and together to manage once more to overcome the “black dog”.
The book is pure fiction, and Köhlmeier dives into a debaucherous story telling, jumping back and forth between several strands of narration lines. An entertaining and very enjoyable book if you are the type of reader that enjoys story telling. For me this book is in best tradition of Michael Köhlmeier, whom I consider an excellent story teller. I loved his (unfinished trilogy of) books on Greek mythology (Telemach and Calypso), but found that after these books he got lost too much in radio programs of story telling. While in itself good, I preferred his novels. Thus, I have to admit that I have forgotten about Köhlmeier for some years, until recently I found this little book, which reminded me of him and his excellent stories.
A book that is – if you are versed in German – well worth enjoying, especially if one likes funny and a bit queer stories.