Adrian Weynfeldt is the last of the Weynfeldts in more ways than the obvious. He’s the unmarried childless only son of a rich Swiss family, but even more importantly, his whole being is suffused with his Weynfeldtness, which has gathered up its force and come to rest in him, the last of the line. The family money cushions him from the world and makes it possible for him to function as a kind of genteel ATM for his so-called friends: a talentless scriptwriter, a failed painter, an architect with no clients, a sculptor who makes gargantuan objects that never sell. His other friends are older than him, relics of his parents’ social circles, the embodiment of the stuffy Swiss bourgeoisie. He lives in the apartment he grew up in, in a bank building, which he owns, in the centre of Zurich. He’s kept his 95-year-old mother’s room unchanged since the day she died, not because he was so fond of her, but out of a kind of inertia. He can’t see why things should change, and he even has a theory that regularity prolongs life. He thinks that if you keep the same habits you don’t notice time passing. He prefers a long life to an eventful one, and his life has many sedate pleasures: the excellence of his clothes, the fine works of art he owns and the finely-calibrated food and drink his perfect housekeeper Frau Hauser (there since his childhood) provides for him. He spends his life evaluating paintings, researching their provenance, estimating their value for a prestigious auction house, not because he needs the money but because he’s interested in art and you have to do something with your time. At one time he thought of being a painter, but he didn’t have any talent.
Not, you might think, a rivetingly-interesting protagonist, but in fact he is interestingly enigmatic because of our sense of a great stasis inside him. We have the feeling that something is waiting, ready to shift. That’s the real drive in the book. Just once in his life, when he was a young art student, he did something out of character. He fell in love with an English art student and moved away from home to live with her in London, to his parents’ rigid disapproval. Then she left him. He knew then, and he knows now, that he just had to say something, to reach out to her, and she wouldn’t have left. She was waiting for him to say it.
But he couldn’t think of anything to say. Like those dreams when you need to run but can’t move from the spot…
Adrian is highly self-aware; it’s just that he seems to lack some driving force that would allow him to assert his own needs as equal to anyone else’s. In the great calm selfishness of his life, paradoxically he’s almost pathologically self-effacing. There’s a very funny scene in which the painter Strasser invites him to lunch apparently with the sole purpose of abusing him for his ‘insulting’ generosity, works himself into a fury and storms off, leaving Adrian to pay the bill and wonder mildly what that was all about.
Suter cleverly weaves together two stories that enmesh Adrian in doubt, subterfuge and double-bluff. There’s Lorena, the chancer who gets a hold on him because she reminds him of his lost love, Daphne, and her conman conspirator who sees Adrian as an easy mark, and then there’s Klaus Baier, an old family friend who tries to pass off a fake painting for Adrian to sell at auction. Adrian realises it’s a fake – but will he, dared by Lorena, put his reputation and his integrity on the line, and if he does, will he be caught out? All this is skilfully told, very well-paced and plotted, and consistently interesting. You really do want to know what happens next. There were some disappointments for me, though: Lorena is a promising character who seems to get less interesting as the book goes on, and Adrian, so subtly depicted early in the book, was also less interesting in the end than I’d hoped.
You’ll enjoy this if you like a clever twisted tale about art, forgery, luxury and fabulous food. All of those things are just fine by me.
Martin Suter, The Last Weynfeldt (tr. Steph Morris). New Vessel Press 2015.
The original was published in 2008, and there’s also a film of it released in 2010.