On Bended Knees

February 17, 2011

One BenLife’s uncomfortable for Tomas Christie, an English boy with a German mother. He travels to Dresden and a divided Berlin to investigate the German side of his nature, his blind ex-Nazi uncle his guide to the bitterness and hopes of a new Europe. Shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel award.

Reviews

A perceptive, moving novel. Martin Goodman takes fierce delight in cutting through the easy cliches about the “new” Europe. ~ Christopher Hope

A first novel of deceptive simplicity, which casts an absorbed and occasionally chilling eye over the complexities of family life, national identity and the horrors of recent European history. ~ D.J.Taylor

Goodman’s quirky first novel heralds a new dawn for British writing. ~ Malcolm Handley, Daily Post 

This excellent first novel’s central character is so completely realised he could have walked out of one of those enigmatic Bruce Chatwin pieces about old mysterious European types. Its basic, simplistic construction combines notions of guilt, memory, family and love into a book that’s built to last long after the sell-by date of most first novels. I would be surprised if this didn’t turn out to be one of the most promising debuts of the year. ~ David Darby, Time Out

The best debut is ON BENDED KNEES, Martin Goodman’s quirkily charming novel that interweaves a young man’s search for selfhood in provincial Britain with the mysteries of his mother’s German past. ~ Natasha Walker, Vogue

The novel’s blunt, no-frills economy is part of its charm. Goodman writes with flare and panache, and the narrative fizzes along. Goodman’s novel soars. ~ Michael Wright, The Times

ON BENDED KNEES is a professional combination of rite-of-passage novel and cultural quest. The troubled half-German adolescent hero, Tomas, goes to stay with relatives in Berlin, following the disturbing death of his father. That city is brilliantly seen through the hero’s eyes, as is the character who effectively steals the novel, the blind and autocratic Herr Poppel. The novel comes most to life when Tomas and Poppel are taking their walks around the divided city’s streets and parks, the older man dispensing the secrets of longevity, the younger man hesitantly challenging him on the implications of his cast-iron pronouncements and their relation to Germany’s guilty past. A very impressive debut. ~ Colin Donald, The Scotsman

… After Collins’s gut-scraping poteen, the emotional tact of Martin Goodman’s ON BENDED KNEES slips down like a milky cuppa. Yet Goodman’s plot unfolds against a backcloth of even deeper red. Tomas grows up with his German mother in the postwar Midlands, a place of oozing war-wounds where a gung-ho film or a World Cup tie can split his heart in two. “We carry old deaths within us,” warns his dying teacher and Tomas must turn pilgrim in Dresden to make peace with his family’s past. This quiet and subtle study of reconciliation tends to stick with English understatement and eschew German grandeur. No matter, Britain has squads of youngish writers trained to squeeze the last drop of moral juice out of the Second World War and its aftermath. It takes a braver soul, like Goodman, to hint that postwar babes should try instead to lay these ghosts to rest. ~ Boyd Tomkin, The Observer

ON BENDED KNEES is puzzling at first, because Tomas, who wants to tell his own story with proper attention – ‘on bended knees’ – seems to have very little personality, or even particular preference. But you come to see that he is conserving himself deliberately against the old suffering, the tired old guilt of the adults. He is biding his time. DJ Taylor has called ON BENDED KNEES “deceptively simple”, but I can’t see what’s deceptive about it. Simplicity is a great virtue, in novels as elsewhere. After all, it can only be produced from sincerity. ~ Penelope Fitzgerald, The Evening Standard

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