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IN BRIEF

Fiction

March 08, 1992|MICHAEL HARRIS

THE END OF THE NOVEL by Michael Kruger , translated from the German by Ewald Osers (George Braziller: $17.50; 106 pp.) . Somewhere in the German countryside, an alienated and reclusive novelist is nearing the end of his nine-year, 800-page struggle with a book that he hopes will be a "history of the imagination" in the post-Nazi era. But his work, so pure, so uncommercial, so untainted by topical themes or current slang, seems to be gasping in its own rarefied air. The only thing he can think of to do with its hero is to have him commit suicide.

Unwilling to give his readers standard psychological or sociological explanations for the suicide, he begins to throw away pages, then whole sections, of the novel, in a mounting frenzy. Its "end" seems certain--until a waitress from the local beer hall brashly seduces him and finds a publisher for the remaining manuscript, removing at a stroke both his burden and his reason for living.

German humor isn't inaccessible to Americans--think of Gunter Grass's mock epics and Heinrich Boll's parodies of officialese--but most of Kruger's fails to cross the language barrier. This is a problem, because "The End of the Novel" is supposed to be funny. It's a satire on cultural hangers-on, unrepentant ex-fascists, the oblivious public and, above all, the novelist's own artistic pretensions, but it doesn't provoke a good chuckle until the waitress, aptly named Eva, shows up--which for many of us will be too late.

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