Bunker by Andrea Maria Schenkel, translated by Anthea Bell, Quercus 2010.
BUNKER, the third brief novel by Andrea Maria Schenkel to be translated into English, again by the sensitive pen of Anthea Bell, differs from the author’s previous two novels in being set in a (possible) present, rather than being an examination of past crimes in part enabled as well as brought about by the chaos of war. The plot of BUNKER is both simple and complex. Simple, in the sense that it describes what is on the surface a straightforward crime: a kidnapping by a man of a woman who lives in the apartment opposite his (or at least, lives somewhere where he can watch her). Complex, in the sense that the story is told from different perspectives, mainly alternating between the kidnapper and the kidnapped, but also occasionally by those who come to sort out the aftermath.
At first, the reader cannot identify the voices telling the narrative. It isn’t clear who is powerful and who is powerless. As the basic plot becomes apparent, it also becomes obvious which narrator is which. Yet, by the end of the book, ambiguity again reigns. An added dimension is the memory and perceptions of both characters that infiltrate their reactions to their present circumstances: the kidnapper’s past life with his violent father and abused mother; and the kidnappee’s dark secret, the guilt of which leads her to believe that she knows the identity of her captor.
Although the book is short, as well as lacking the historical aspects of the author’s previous novels, I enjoyed it more than the earlier books. It is not a deeply profound novel, but it does challenge our sense of “right” and “wrong”, and where our sympathies should lie. All is not what it seems.