Matt Forney
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Herr F. (Everything Living Forever is Screaming Forever) by Momus

herr-fHerr F. is what happens when someone with extensive experience in one form of writing tries to tackle another without bothering to understand what separates the two.

I’ll freely admit I knew nothing about Momus (real name: Nicholas Currie) until Takimag editor Ann Sterzinger reviewed this novel of his last month. The guy’s an underground musician whose songs sound like the butt baby of Leonard Cohen and Michael Gira, blending references to Greek myth, continental philosophy and world history amid synth slams and his fey, Stuart Murdoch-esque vocals. And I’ll admit that Momus is pretty good at the music game, whether he’s imagining a dialogue between Dr. Faust and a patient, recasting the story of Pygmalion as a tale of rape and mind control, or pondering the philosophical implications of coming in a girl’s mouth.

Now if he could only learn how to write a novel.

Herr F. isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. A re-imagining of the Faust legend in modern times, it shows flashes of brilliance but doesn’t come together as a coherent work. Reading it is like watching a magician who is so obsessed with proving how brilliant he is that he doesn’t notice his fly is undone. It’s worth checking out, if only because it’s free, but that’s pretty much it.

The problems with Herr F. begin in the very first chapter, as we’re introduced to the deceased Faust pondering his fate in what appears to be the same circle of Hell that Justine Jones was sent to:

I can confirm that nothing is very big. It seems to stretch out in all directions forever. Its texture is no-particular-texture, and its shape no-particular-shape. There isn’t any particular smell that I can identify, and the lighting seems to be even, without any particular source. There’s no sense of days or nights passing; no weeks, months, years, centuries, millennia, no flux or wane, no hot or cold, no winter or summer, no weather.

Wow, man. That’s like, really deep. Lemme grab a spliff and plug in my lava lamp.

Things get better in chapter two, where the plot—if you can call it that—gets rolling. Poor Herr Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for success as the author of The Book of Moss, a title as nauseatingly dull as it sounds. The deal leads to worldwide fame for Faust and a relationship with the art student-turned-painter Gretchen Mitsukoshi, then pain as he discovers that buying your way to the top isn’t as fun as it sounds:

In the fifth cube, the whizzing electrons of a colour TV image are making a kind of 3-D soap opera in which I am fucking Gretchen, who is simultaneously telling me that she has just accidentally killed her mother with the sleeping tablets I gave her by mistake, thinking they were birth-control pills. This news makes me lose my usual self-control and I orgasm inside Gretchen (under normal circumstances I practise coitus interruptus). After the commercial break we learn that Gretchen is pregnant, and her brother is furious about it. Mephisto and I, playing ourselves in the soap opera, slay Gretchen’s brother in a sword fight. Gretchen goes mad, drowns her newborn son and is sentenced for murder. I try unsuccessfully to rescue her from death row. She won’t come. But just before the episode ends, a booming voice from heaven announces that Gretchen has been saved. The audience breaks spontaneously into applause, because in the pilot the voice from heaven said the exact opposite.

The primary problem with Herr F. is that Momus is incapable of sitting still and developing an idea. He comes off like a more pretentious David Lynch: he gets a cool image in his head and writes it down with no concern for how it fits in the greater scheme of things. Each chapter in Herr F. seems only tangentially connected to the previous one, as if Momus sat down and wrote a series of separate stories, then realized after the fact that oh shit, these need to be linked somehow.

The effect is like mining for diamonds in a pile of manure.

The other problem with Herr F. is that Momus relies on postmodern trickery in lieu of developing a coherent plot… like every other hack “real” novelist of the past two decades. He inserts himself into chapter eight, referring to “Momus’s neglected 1997 album Ping Pong,” incorporates the book’s graphic designer Hagen Verlager as a character, and the final chapters of the book concern Faust writing the story of his life, coincidentally also called Herr F.:

The trip is a disaster. Takahashi does everything she can to prevent Aoi Yu and I from consummating our marriage, barging into the cabin we share at all hours of the night with a torch and camera. In Khabarovsk I’m bitten by an entire team of huskies when I attempt to cross the road against the red man. In Irkutsk some raw bear meat gives Aoi Yu a serious stomach infection and a local doctor forces her to eat the dried bodies of dead bees. At Buryatskaya the local police tell us our passports are not in order; we’re forced to spend a week in a stark tin shed, cold and gender-segregated. A cable from Tokyo clears things up, but we still have to wait another four days for the next Trans-Siberian Express. In Novosibirsk Takahashi goes off in search of medium-format camera film and I finally manage to get some quality time alone with Aoi Yu, only to find that she has vulvovaginitis, a condition which makes penetration impossible.

Momus’ website describes Herr F. as “a take on the Faust myth and on German-language experimental fiction.” Maybe I’m too much of a plebe to get it, but I’m just sick to death of these hacks thinking that all these neat tricks are an adequate substitute for a coherent plot and interesting characters. For Christ’s sake, Infinite Jest is nearly twenty years old! When are you imbeciles going to give it up?

It’s a shame because Herr F. has a lot of meat on its bones, whether it’s Faust trying to escape his phony fame by retreating to the mountains or dealing with his disgust for Gretchen’s false adoration. Had Momus put away the Adderall for a few weeks, he could have written something truly fantastic.

As it stands, Herr F. is like a haunted house ride: lots of memorable moments but no underlying structure.

As I said already, the book is free through Momus’ publisher, the German art collective Fiktion, so you don’t have to waste your hard-earned simoleons figuring out whether I’m right. Herr F. has some cool moments, but coming from a guy who is clearly learned and intelligent, it’s ultimately a gimmicky letdown.

Stick to the songwriting, Momus: the novel is an art form that eludes you.

Click here to download Herr F.

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