Ingrid Caven, by Jean-Jacques Schuhl

I was sitting watching the opening credits of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The American Soldier and noticed the name Ingrid Caven on the screen, and I thought to myself, I’ve got a book called Ingrid Caven by some French writer – part of that project I had once to read some of the winners of the Prix Goncourt; – I wonder if there’s a connection. So I dug it out of my pile of books and started reading it.
It turns out she was a German singer, who occasionally worked as an actress, and who was Fassbinder’s muse – she even married him (seriously, I’d always thought Fassbinder was gay!) – and then later also was Yves Saint Laurent’s muse. So we have this tale of her life, from being a little girl in Hitler’s Germany and serenading the troops, to becoming a famous singer and actress and hanging round with Fassbinder and Yves Saint Laurent and other celebrities in that sixties and seventies world of film-making and fashion and drug-taking (with occasional brushes with the Baader-Meinhof gang) in Germany, in France, in New York – a world which can’t help but fascinate; – and Schuhl is for the most part such an attractive writer – just along the lines Obooki likes: all nice long flowing jumbled sentences and human insight; – thinking again, here’s another writer who deserves to be better known; – the structure of the book all a jumble too, jumping about here and there in her life; going round in circles; and it is only towards the end – or maybe halfway through – that you start thinking, I’ve read all this before, this novel really isn’t getting anywhere anymore and maybe it could have done with being cut by half (it’s only 240 pages); Schuhl just doesn’t know where to stop.
But at times thinking too, what is all this? The life of Ingrid Caven, a real person, who meets other real people; so where is Schuhl getting all this information from – not merely the things that happened to her, but her thoughts and reflections on them, the causes of her personality; really quite intimate things. Is he just making all this up? The novel is told from the point of view of someone called Charles, who is now Ingrid’s lover – her companion – who has replaced Fassbinder and Yves Saint Laurent; but there’s not much to this Charles character in comparison – one wonders why she’s taken up with him; he seems outside it all, an onlooker; – and it is only in the last part that Schuhl lets it slip that he is Charles; that he is Ingrid’s companion in reality – in a post-modern postscript which otherwise adds little to the foregoing.
But I did enjoy it for the most part, especially as per the beginning of this post, because I’m gradually making my way through all of Fassbinder’s films at the moment.

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