Campus - 02.12.2019 - 00:00 

The characters in Simone Lappert's novels have a life of their own

As part of the series “Das andere Buch an der Uni” (“The other book at the university”), Author Simone Lappert read from her second work “Der Sprung” (“Jump”). It had only just been published, when it was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize. The reading demonstrated that “Der Sprung” rightly deserves all the attention it has received.

2 December 2019. Interest in November’s “Das andere Buch an der Uni” event was huge. Almost every seat beneath the library dome was filled. In her welcoming address, Sarah Niederer, Deputy Director of the university library, reminded the audience that the series of events has existed since 2002 and presents exciting books and their authors twice a year.

A powerful start to the reading

Simone Lappert kicked off the reading by reciting freely from the first page of the book. It is about a young woman standing on a roof and what happens when she takes a step into emptiness. You could almost feel the biting wind that the falling woman was exposed on your own face.

The 34-year-old author's second novel is based on a real event she had heard about a few years ago that stuck in her mind. Simone Lappert recalled how, at the time, she was able to talk to a relative of the person on the roof who was standing in the crowd and had heard what people were saying about their loved one; ranging from “Go on, jump!” to “People like that should be shot”. However, she only adopted the basic situation for her novel. All the characters and their life stories were fictitious.

Characters in a novel can thwart even the best-made plans

The main character of the story is Manu. The unusual young woman has made it her mission to rescue plants from their pots. Although she is the protagonist, she hardly ever appears herself. It is only the people around her who gradually paint a picture of Manu. They either know the young woman very well, only marginally or not at all. “When I was writing, it was important to me to ask what shape our sense of empathy is in, how we deal with people who are different and who stray from the social norm,” emphasised Simone Lappert.

The characters in her novel did not always obey her original ideas. “Sometimes they refused the name I gave them. Another time the character faded more and more as the story evolved or suddenly took on a much stronger role than I initially intended for them.” Often the protagonists developed a life of their own, thwarted her plans and developed surprising new facets and characteristics.

Mindfully drawn individuals

Simone Lappert added that she did a lot of research while working on the novel. A biologist told her a lot about the urban plant world, a policeman about his interventions in suicide attempts, a bicycle courier about the various things he had to transport. “They ranged from pig's eyes for the hospital to bouquets of flowers and urine samples.” Thus, fictional characters like the policeman Felix, the tailor Maren, Manu's boyfriend Finn and her sister Astrid, the homeless man Henry, the hatter and slaughterhouse employee Egon, the schoolgirl Winnie or the corner shop owner Theres were created.

Andreas Härter, permanent lecturer for German language and literature (SHSS-HSG), who moderated the reading, said that one of his favourite characters is the unshakeable and clever landlady Roswitha. However, all Simone Lappert’s other chararacters are also carefully drawn. Among other things, the audience asked why the novel was set in Germany and not in Switzerland. Simone Lappert replied that while writing, it was important for her to “remove” the story from where it actually happened. “Fiction helps lessens the constraints that exist for events that really happened.” The fictional town in Germany gave her the necessary freedom to develop an independent story. However, it is important to understand that the events could have taken place anywhere.

Simone Lappert is the first Swiss author to be published by the renowned Diogenes Verlag. Her debut novel “Wurfschatten” was published in 2014 and was shortlisted for the aspekte Prize. She was awarded the Wartholz Prize for Best Newcomer, is President of the Basel International Poetry Festival and Swiss curator for the “Babelsprech.International” poetry project. She lives and works in Basel and Zurich.

Picture: Diogenes Verlag / Ayse Yavas

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