Nis-Momme Stockmann’s debut novel Der Fuchs is an entry in a venerable tradition of encountering the ocean as a liminal and often uncanny space. Moby-Dick opens with a wonderful description of the mysterious pall that the presence of the sea casts on Manhattan, drawing the people constantly towards the ocean. Closer to the world of the novel, there is Theodor Storm’s Rider on the White Horse (Der Schimmelreiter), where the project of dike building becomes an encounter with the barely sublimated supernatural qualities of the ocean.
Stockmann’s novel is set on the fictional island of Thule, a reference to the island in classical cartography at the very edge of the known world. Thule is located somewhere in the North Sea, a setting not far from that of Storm’s novella, with which there are many obvious affinities. At the beginning of the novel, the village milieu of the petit bourgeois has been swept away by a flood that has drowned the village, and Finn Schliemann is stranded on a rooftop. Surrounded by the flood memories and images of the past (and future) drift across his consciousness. Thule, it turns out, is like a cosmic naval where the world of humans and gods intersect.
The novel contains some interesting moments: it traffics heavily in the grotesque, with a series of unexplained murders and a severed arm that washes up on the beach; it extends from Schliemann’s immediate past into an imagined (?) post-Earth science-fiction future, and it unbinds and ultimately rebinds its various narrative strands in a way that deserves further consideration. On balance, though, I found the novel underwhelming. Its reflections on, well, God and the world, seem bloated (the novel clocks in at 715 pages). To compare it to the examples I opened with, I was missing the philosophical depth of Melville’s novel, or the understatedness of Storm’s novella. Nor are some of the intriguing aspects of the narrative particularly compelling or original. Having different levels of narration on the same page is something that Terezia Mora did in her 2013 novel Das Ungeheur, reviving the gods in a world of disenchantment is something I encountered in the novel I am now reading, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Nor did it do much for my reading experience when around page 350 I turned to the acknowledgements and found that Stockmann thanked himself. Reading this novel was part of my effort to keep well abreast of the contemporary German literary scene, especially since I deal mostly with historical genres and authors. I picked up this novel because the fantastic element and the apocalyptic nature seemed promising, both to my taste but also to my interest in ecocriticism. In the end I mostly regretted not having gone instead with Julie Zeh’s new novel Unterleuten, the other alternative in the bookstore.