:: Article

The Appointment

By Charlie Stone.

Katharina Volckmer, The Appointment (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020).

From the very beginning, Katharina Volckmer’s début novel The Appointment doesn’t pull its punches. Our unnamed female narrator begins her account by relating a dream she had in which she was Adolf Hitler, ‘overlooking a mass of fanatical followers’, concluding two pages later with the question, ‘don’t you think that there is something kinky about genocide?’ These opening pages set the tone for a novel that, sexualising Hitler and Jesus alike, leaves little aside in its quest to throw taboo subjects under the microscope.

The Appointment is written in the form of a monologue: one woman vents her emotions to a silent doctor in what will turn out to be a life-changing medical appointment. Her narration ranges from wilful provocation to pensive eloquence, often in the space of a single sentence. This conflictual style, which allows for musings about people ‘who are sometimes admitted to hospital with half their living room up their ass’ to lead to the quite profound observation, ‘that’s what loneliness does to people, Dr Seligman; they forget how to articulate their ideas’, fully justifies those more provocative lines. Thanks to this brave authorial decision, the hypocrisy of modern British prudishness is displayed to the reader with unrelenting candour.

With bravery comes risk, though, and there is a danger that the reader may tire of this campaign of revelation even in a novel spanning no more than a hundred pages. The strength of The Appointment, however, is that it offers just enough of a plot to maintain its reader’s interest. The central narrative is a love story between the narrator and the enigmatic ‘K’, a tale of fluidity, adultery and purple paint that constantly acknowledges its own finite nature. K is presented as a form of alter ego to the narrator:

I belonged to him in a way that only lovers think they belong to each other. That every sound that would leave my body would carry the ring of his voice and every move the reluctance of his fingers.

Volckmer’s choice of his initial, too, is no coincidence. K’s influence is such that the narrator begins to consider herself as a man in his presence, bringing a fluidity to gender that proves to be the key focus of the novel. Just like her monologue, which could as likely be seen on stage as in a novel, this narrator refuses to let herself be restricted into a single category.

Gender is but one of many, many subjects broached in this book. The sheer scope of these is impressive — Nazism, technology, sexuality, memory, Catholicism among others — but such scope in such a short novel leaves little time for the significant moments of thoughtfulness to sink in. The narration aptly, breathlessly portrays a hyperactive imagination, but it seems at times as if the author has forgotten to bring the reader with her. By the time that we have processed one observation — ‘all we are [is] other people’s stories’ — our narrator is already giving us another on the attractive perversions of debauchery. There is nothing superficial about the sometimes shocking images presented to the reader throughout The Appointment, but the rapidity of their accumulation sometimes gives the impression of exactly that.

Key to appreciating everything The Appointment has to offer, then, is a refusal of its implicit recommendation to finish the book in one sitting. The reader must treat this monologue as the silent Dr Seligman does: not to respond to the provocations, but to listen thoughtfully for the moments in which the narrator is at her most philosophical before sitting back and considering. Paradoxically, perhaps, the novel is at its most effective when the reader is least tempted to press wilfully on. Given the patience it deserves, The Appointment proves a multi-layered and intelligent first novel.

Charlie Stone is a French literature specialist and arts journalist based in Cambridge. His work has appeared in publications including The Arts Desk and The i, and he is currently working on a project to renew interest in a forgotten period of early modern French theatre.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 26th, 2020.