on 30 December 2012
Katharina Hacker's novel 'The Have-Nots' won an award in her native Germany and it starts really encouragingly: her primary characters, Jakob and Isabelle, meet at a party in Berlin on the night of September 11 2001, theirs is a world of uncertainty, of change. Into their story she interweaves those of two London-based characters: Jim, a petty criminal and Sara, an abused and neglected young girl, and that's when the book begins to show its cracks. So long as the action remains in Berlin, the narrative holds together and feels fleshed out and crucially, plausible: Isabelle and Jakob have both friends and jobs in Berlin that hold vaguely true for their age and standing. However, when they are moved for Jakob's work to London not only do their jobs and new friends suddenly seem unlikely, but also they are inexplicably brought into direct contact with both Jim and Sara and the whole plot unravels. Hacker opts inflict a complete character change on her central characters in order to shoehorn them into the very different stories of Jim and Sara.
It's a real shame because the first quarter or third of the book is good, holds the attention and certainly when in Berlin, feels like a proper novel asking interesting questions about responsibility, commitment and the nature of adulthood. However, once the action moves to London, this is a narrative in freefall, falling apart all over the place. Additionally, and almost unforgiveably, Hacker seems to know it's all gone awry in the final 100 pages when her prose descends to the level of 'this-character-did-this-then-did-that-then-looked-this-way-then-did-that' whilst all the while intimating that a grand showdown is looming. It is lazy, disinterested writing that smacks of someone just needing to end a book and to end it soon. This would have been a much better novel if it had stayed in Berlin and stuck to what it was good at. A real shame.