La Variante Luneburg
by Paolo Maurensig
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ClaudioClaudio wrote a review

I approached this book after a few heartfelt recommendations, all along the lines of "I'm sure you will like it, even though it’s crime fiction!" (yes, I'm not really into the whole genre I'm afraid). These recommendations got something profoundly right, and something profoundly wrong.

What they got right is that I did like this book. I breezed through it and loved it. Maurensig's style is sober, accurate, brief and straight to the point. Might seem dry at times, but it is really just careful and thought through. And this is not by accident: The Lüneburg Variation has a fairly complex narrative structure, jiggling with three layers of nested flashbacks and three distinct narrators. As a reader you almost don't realize it, precisely because Maurensig's style makes it smooth and straightforward. Very well put.

What they got wrong (and I'm sorry that I have to be always so argumentative) is that this book is not crime fiction. First of all, there is no crime. Yes, technically there is a murder being talked about right at the beginning of the story, but it quickly fades into the background and, after a couple of chapters, you almost forget that that's how it all started. On the other hand, it's undoubtedly true that Maurensig lures the reader into thinking that the story will unfold neatly and reveal what actually happened, but if you expect the typical resolution of crime novels, I can assure you will be disappointed. By the time you flip the last page, you won't have learnt anything new on what happened. And this is not because "the author wanted to preserve the mystery" or whatever, if you ask me. It's simply because this story is all about the "why" (and not the "what"). The Lüneburg Variation is essentially a story about the deep and excruciating relationship between two individuals, both completely alienated, both lost in their obsession to such an extent that they lose contact with reality and reject the world (and people) around them. Ironically, their lives end up entangled with the most tragic events in human history and the only way to overcome their condition is to willingly plunge into the depths of their obsessed psyche, accept it, and come back.

Oh, and, by the way, it's also all about chess.
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