Der große Kater
Ammann Verlag, 1998. 236pp.
ISBN 3 250 60025 3
This partly fantastic, partly realistic, and wholly unsentimental novel charts the rivalry between a President of Switzerland, whose talent for survival has earned him the nickname of The Great Tomcat, and his childhood friend Pfiff, now head of the Swiss Secret Service. Personal and public motives intermingle as Pfiff outmanoeuvres the man who once stole his fiancée and in whose shadow he has lived since the two of them launched their careers. It combines the elements of a good old-fashioned political thriller with a shrewd exploration of personal jealousies, media distortion, and deeper philosophical questions. In the process it uses a skilful blend of childhood flashback, interior monologue, and straightforward narration in its exposure of the crafty machinations of the two main characters.
The trigger for the action is a state visit to Switzerland undertaken by the King and Queen of Spain, a key event in the year's media calendar and a not-to-be-missed chance for the President to revive his flagging fortunes. His plans are scuppered, however, by the deviousness of his childhood friend, who alters the schedule of visits to be undertaken by the Queen and the Tomcat's wife, Marie, to include the hospital where their son is lying terminally ill. Marie reacts, as expected, to what she assumes to be the Tomcat's attempt to use their personal grief for political ends, and she subsequently ruins the King and Queen's visit with flagrant breeches of protocol at the state dinner given in their honour. Pfiff has had his revenge. The Tomcat's career is finished. But were his motives quite as innocent, for once, as the reader might at first believe? A revelation made towards the end of the book leaves the issue tantalisingly in doubt.
This extremely appealing novel is narrated with great panache, supposedly by the Tomcat's son. With its implied critique of Switzerland and Swiss politics - which will not deter those without special knowledge of the country - this is satire of a high order.