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Saturday, June 30, 2012
Review: Afric McGlinchey
The arrestingly titled Axolotl Roadkill is an apt metaphor for a story that pulverises the imagination. An axolotl is rather an adorable looking sea creature that never seems to evolve beyond adolescence. The teenage protagonist’s brother describes her writing style as being like ‘roadkill’. Put those words together and you get the message that there’s no room for innocence here.
This novel of the Berlin clubbing underworld, written by a 16-year-old, initially created a sensation in the media due to its precocious, shocking content and stylistic originality. Until it was discovered that the author had plagiarised unashamedly from online bloggers and other uncredited writers. Unexpectedly, however, Hegemann has stood over the authenticity of her book, claiming that ‘mixing’ is all part of today’s virtual world.
"I help myself to whatever inspires me," says one character. And some of her critics agree, despite large-scale cutting and pasting from various sources, has had .
When I read the book, I was unaware of the controversy, and pretty impressed with the sophistication of the language, structure, style and riveting content. The protagonist in this ‘diary’ novel is "so anorexic she’s gone colour-blind". Mifti is a disenchanted, gender-confused teenager who loves women but fantasises about brutal sex with men — indeed, she is raped by a taxi driver, but takes it all in her stride, even conversing with the driver afterwards about how they might both turn the rape to their advantage.
She is self-destructive, yet health conscious, washing down half a Ritalin with "low-fat chocolate milk", and later writing in her diary: "this … is my weapon of expression against the fear of not surviving it all". Yet she appears to enjoy her status as a deviant with a borderline personality disorder.
The back-story introduces her drug-addict, sociopathic mother, who neglected her and then died when Mifti was 13, leaving her in the care of older siblings. An absent artist father barely appears in the story. The hardcore clubbing world that she inhabits is filtered through an impressionist, drug-infused gauze where the characters exchange social and moral laws for a world of anything-goes games. Beijing Doll and The Sexual Life of Catherine M come to mind.
There is a loss of connection to reality although, at one point, Mifti falls victim to "an unspecific emotional articulation" as her consciousness struggles to come to terms with her surreal existence. Over the blackout that is her social norm, flakes of normality float like dandruff: siblings jump in the bath together, inspect white spots on tonsils, argue about repaying a debt. Beneath the jaded cynicism, a youthful naivety occasionally surfaces: "Where does your soul go? To heaven or hell. Or it turns into a butterfly."
Hegemann’s assertion that "intertexuality" is an authentic device to represent today’s social realism, appears to have resolved the rights issues. But, regardless of that debate, Axolotl Roadkill has already developed a cult following, and will continue to do so with a younger audience. A dazzling debut.
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