Aufbau-Verlag GmbH, August 2005, 368 pp.
Shortlisted for the the German Book Prize
Lehr’s third novel opens with a group of journalists returning from their visit to CERN, (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), the world’s largest particle physics laboratory on the border between France and Switzerland, just west of Geneva. The group are emerging from an escalator that has picked them up from one of the underground particle accelerators when they realise that something has changed. The people outside the centre’s entrance, the cars on the nearby road, the birds, the plane in the sky: everything appears to be frozen in time like one gigantic panoramic waxwork cabinet. Recovering from their initial shock, the group realise that they can not only still breathe, but also move freely through the frozen world around them – they can snatch glasses of ever-sparkling champagne from people’s hands, they can steal food straight from the plates of the most upmarket Genevan restaurants.
After initial solidarity the 60 individuals disperse. Some of them shut themselves off from the real, frozen world in remote communities in the Alps, some enter vigilante missions to rectify the wrongs of the world in case the mechanism of time suddenly jolts into action again (one dagger through the heart of a Serbian war criminal, another across the throat of a Nazi official in hiding). Others, like the narrator Adrian Haffner, go out in search of lost partners or families, only to find their beloveds arrested mid-movement – and sometimes in compromising or embarrassing situations.
The ‘chronifieds’ or ‘Zombies’, as the survivors start calling themselves, wander around Europe for five years, when time suddenly jolts into action again – for three precious seconds only. The unexpected, if inexplicable, event fuels their belief in some secret mechanism – a chronological bridge, a time-tunnel, a hidden control switch – which could make things flow again. They gather once more in Geneva for one final experiment, which eventually only serves to show up the limitations of science and reason as we know it.
Lehr’s main objective is to distance his readers from events and make them ponder over the scientific principles and philosophical implications that determine the laws of the physical world. His lexical references are immense and the book is written in beautiful language. A marvellous experiment and a sometimes taxing but always fascinating read.