“The Infanta wears her head on the left” is a novel like a gallery tour. Helena Adler exhibits twenty-one works of art in it, which together make up the story of growing up in the country. The chapters have paintings that inspired the author in their names. There are Baselitz’s “The Big Night in the Bucket and Goya’s” The Sleep of Reason Bears Monsters “, as Pieter Bruegel does again and again. In the paintings of the Dutch Renaissance painter, the Adler protagonist – the nameless Infanta – finds her home In the 1980s she grew up on an Austrian farm. Her childhood was a lively Bruegel picture, she says. But pictures are always what the viewer sees in them. Adler paints much darker, more grotesque and morbid than Bruegel ever did.
“It is the black grandeur that spreads its wings and settles in the courtyard. It sits on every roof gable, I hear it smacking its lips. The black grandeur is always hungry. It consists of madness, the abyss and the remains of war, an inheritance that of the next Generation, together with a choker and gold bonnet, is prayerfully presented. It waits for me. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, they say solemnly, and I wish nothing more than that I believed in God. “
Family made up of devils and monsters
The Infanta feels she is strange, alone. Her sisters are devils on ice skates, their father a bear and a drinker. And the mother never freaks out, but she freaks out more often. After an argument with the father, she hangs his teeth, hair and scalp in the living room. Adler applies the uncanny so thickly that you can feel it under your fingers while reading. Your language seems to be an organism of its own through which Catholicism twitches like a body that has just been decapitated.
“Mom, your existence soothes me. Although you are a monster to others. You let me lick the egg foam off the blender sticks and I imagine how it turns my tongue in and pulls it out and we both laugh about it. The smell of warm tents penetrates my nose. The dough is still very soft and warm. You are our daily bread. “
Escape to pop culture
Violence and death are found in almost every scene in the childhood story. Kittens only appear to have their pus eyes rinsed out with chamomile tea shortly before they die. Fleas and bedbugs cheer when the Infanta goes to bed because they can finally continue to feed on her. And the Infanta wants to saw open the skulls of the older sisters, who are as hated as they are feared, with her ice skates. But as brutally as Adler describes the Infanta’s real life, so tenderly does she turn to the pop culture of her childhood. Falco, Baywatch and Lucky Luke are mentioned, while Christmas trees wear “wind earrings like Nena”. The chewing gum worlds from Beverly Hills 90210 offer a particularly nice contrast to the bone-cold Austria, which sticks eagles like pink stickers on their gloomy pictures when they describe how the Infanta falls in love with the “beaming boy Brandon”. The rescue from the nightmare of the 80s and 90s childhood is the television. The Infanta describes him almost more tenderly than her own mother:
“Inside, the television consists of muscles and nerve tissue. The venous cable supplies it with blood and oxygen. If the supply is sufficient, the picture pulsates in magnificent colors. If the aorta is damaged, the radio signal goes out. The picture loss leads to amnesia, the tone of voice triggers a sudden hearing loss And a lightning strike, multiple organ failure. The television has already been operated twice because of atrial fibrillation due to a lack of blood supply. When he closes his eyes, his black face crackles as if one could hear his dreams, which like small lightning bolts chase through his sleep . “
A hasty final scene
In the Infanta’s family history, they have intertwined several dark secrets and trauma. The mother was abused by a close relative, a cousin turns out to be a brother and the father cheats on the mother in the whorehouse. The Infanta never wants to be a mother herself. After she watches a dog eat the afterbirth of a cow, she makes up her mind.
The last picture – and last chapter – in Helen Adler’s childhood exhibition nonetheless shows her as a mother. It follows with a time lag to the previously narrated, as if it were only there to give the book a rounded conclusion. It seems urgent. Spit on and stuck to the rest. That would not have been necessary. Because “The Infanta wears the parting on the left” is not a plot of driven entertainment novel. It’s a relish smacking word spread made of fleas, blood and dung. A work of art made of dirty umbilical cords that wraps itself all too comfortably around your neck while reading.
Helena Adler: “The Infanta wears the parting on the left”
Jung und Jung, Salzburg and Vienna, 184 pages, 20 euros