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Munich Airport by Greg Baxter review – good, old-fashioned existential angst

For The Guardian:

The story of the impact of a woman’s suicide through anorexia on her brother and her father…

 

In his 1967 novel, Gargoyles, the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard has the following passage: “Why suicide? We search for reasons, causes, and so on … We follow the course of the life he has now so suddenly terminated as far back as we can. For days we are preoccupied with the question: Why suicide? We recollect details. And yet we must say that everything in the suicide’s life … is part of the cause, the reason, for his suicide.”

In many ways, Munich Airport is a meditation on this passage of Bernhard. The novel tells the story of the impact of Miriam’s suicide through anorexia on her (nameless) brother, the protagonist, and her father. The two are stranded at Munich airport waiting for the weather to clear in order to fly her body home to the States. (Miriam has been living estranged from them in Germany.) Father and son are both now also turning away from food – and the agony of their departure-lounge delay frames an account of the three weeks they have spent in Germany waiting for her body to be released. Interspersed with this are recollections of details of the past life of the protagonist and his family. They search their memories of Miriam’s childhood and yet can find nothing, “or at least nothing so spectacularly out of the ordinary as to explain her suicide”.

The Bernhard Museum is only two hours down the road from Munich airport and close reading reveals that Baxter, an American who lives in Germany, is engaged with Bernhard throughout. Here is Bernhard: “All my life I have had the utmost admiration for suicides. I have always considered them superior to me in every way.” And here is Baxter’s protagonist on his sister: “Our faith that she would one day need us again, just as we needed her, no doubt belonged to the hedonism and extravagance and stupidity of life above the pain of starving.”

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