Until the publication of her acclaimed debut novel this year, Austrian author Mareike Fallwickl was known primarily for her book blog. Here, fellow blogger Tilman Winterling explores what happens when a blogger who ‘delights in hatchet jobs’ turns to print.
Author Mareike Fallwickl, whose debut Dunkelgrün fast schwarz (‘Dark Green, Almost Black’) was published this spring by Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, runs the literary blog Bücherwurmloch [book-worm-hole]. Here, she has been reviewing the books she reads for almost ten years. Her texts are opinionated and personal, implacable and ruthless: you quickly realise that she delights in hatchet jobs.
As well as classic critiques, Bücherwurmloch includes more general articles on the subject of reading (‘Have I forgotten how to read?’) and the kind of listicles – ‘14 reasons to stop reading a bad book’ or ‘17 reasons why I’m refusing the 2018 autumn list’ – that young internet-users love. The bio on her blog tells readers that Fallwickl also writes professionally: she has been working for years as a freelance editor and copywriter, but this editorial work has recently taken a backseat to her own writing.
The publication of Mareike Fallwickl’s debut novel was accompanied by excited and joyful posts on her blog and linked social media channels. She posted pictures of the first review copies and of book tours, and soon let readers know that she was already working on her next novel. It is not unusual for critics to write their own fiction, nor for authors to document their work and to share this with readers. What is new, however, is the immediacy. When Martin Walser’s diaries are published, the works discussed in them came out decades ago. But there are generally only minutes at most between a photo and an Instagram post. The dangers are the same, then as now. After all, writing about writing can be seen as justifying one’s own work, and it is not uncommon for authors to provide ammunition for their critics in this way.
When Dunkelgrün fast schwarz was discussed at the Literary Centre in Göttingen, one of the panellists quoted from Fallwickl’s blog while identifying various weaknesses in the novel. Fallwickl had claimed that her work as an editor had taught her to be concise, to reduce texts to their essentials. The critic had read Fallwickl on Fallwickl, and gleefully hurled the author’s remark back at her: if that were the case, why was the novel so full of redundant repetitions; if Fallwickl loved cutting so much, why would her text be so drastically improved if it were reduced by half?
The eminent German critic Fritz J. Raddatz experienced this phenomenon from both sides. As a reviewer he probably nipped many an authorial career in the bud, yet he always regretted that his own literary endeavours went unacknowledged by the critics. Even the most widely-read blog is unlikely to have such an influence on sales figures as the culture section of the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit did in the 1970s, when it was headed up by Raddatz. But the book blogging community did react promptly and strongly to the news that ‘one of them’ had published their own literary debut. As soon as the first review copies were sent out, Fallwickl’s novel appeared on numerous social media feeds; the cover was a fixture on Instagram for days, in shots elaborately staged by enthusiastic readers.
Fallwickl combines her writing as an author and critic on one platform. This would have been unthinkable in the ‘old media’, but in the world of social media and blogging it is very desirable. It goes beyond simply encouraging dialogue with readers – and in Fallwickl’s case, that dialogue actually happens because almost every comment on Bücherwurmloch is answered. Mareike Fallwickl’s authentic and approachable style may be her best means of self-promotion for her debut and beyond. So the fact that a few critics might home in on remarks from old posts is probably worth it.