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Bricks and Mortar interview

Bricks and Mortar interview

Clemens Meyer tells us Bricks and Mortar is a novel about death and capitalism, and translator Katy Derbyshire compares translating Meyer’s writing to learning a dance.

This is part of our series of Man Booker International Prize 2017 longlist interviews.


Clemens Meyer, author of Bricks and Mortar

What has it been like to be longlisted?   

It has been a wonderful surprise! And a real pleasure because this novel was and is very important to me. A great deal of time and energy went into writing Bricks and Mortar.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel Bricks and Mortar?

It’s a bitter taste, a strong taste, a sensitive taste. It’s the taste of blood and tears and the taste of poetry. Of Eros and Thanatos. It is both real and surreal, a blend of myth and reality. When we look inside the red light, we find our own world.

Bricks and Mortar has been described as offering a pessimistic view of East Germany post-unification, but a humanistic one as well. Do you agree with this sentiment? 

Partly. I tried to compose a world entire. It’s a book about death and capitalism, about greed. And sometimes I think that the novel knows much more about these than its author does.


Katy Derbyshire, translator of Bricks and Mortar

What has it been like to be longlisted? 

It’s been a great joy, and a relief because Bricks and Mortar hadn’t received much attention before the nomination. So I feel my taste and I suppose also my work has been confirmed. I was in London at the book fair when the longlist was announced, and I spent the day walking around hugging various fellow translators – delightful because we usually work alone at our desks, miles and miles apart. Many of them knew how much I love the book and were all the more pleased for me.

What did you like most about translating Bricks and Mortar?

Probably the incredible flow I found myself getting into. The world outside shut out as I concentrated on rhythms and voices, sometimes rocking on my chair, sometimes listening to songs contained in the novel or looking for new ones that would be familiar to UK readers. And the great but challenging thing about the book is that there are so many different voices, so they had to be found anew for every chapter.

This is the second of Meyer’s works that you’ve translated. Was it easier to hit your stride with this work, than coming to a writer afresh?

Very much so, yes. I’ve been working on Clemens’s writing since I translated excerpts from his debut novel in 2006, so I have a good feeling for what he wants to achieve and how he does it. You might compare it to learning a dance, perhaps. You know many of the moves but your partner can always surprise you. And Clemens does keep me on my toes with his huge range of references and his style, which goes from very colloquial to almost poetic.