I scratched an itch I could not scratch

„Wolf Haas is an Austrian writer. He is known for his crime fiction novels, four of which were made into films. He has won several prizes for his works, including the German prize for crime fiction.”– Wolf Haas’s page on Wikipedia

„Wolf Haas attributes his success to the unique way he tells his stories, rather than the stories themselves. ” – Study of Silentium, Master of Art Thesis by Paul Geisler

„In the first novel, I was so occupied by this newly discovered language that I didn’t really care about the plot. With each subsequent book, I’ve paid a little more attention to it. As far as I am concerned, plot and language are best balanced in the last two novels.” – Interview with Wolf Haas in „Die Welt”, 2011

A fancy rooftop bar & restaurant, in the city centre. Its first opening after the most recent COVID-19 lockdown. Like what seemed half the users of facebook, we too were waiting in line for an elevator to take us up. There were 3 girls with headsets, 4 guards, 8 elevators. But only one elevator seemed to be in service. The line spawned in front of the elevators, crossed through the entrance hall, which was marble-floored, marble-walled, and big enough to could have housed an Italian Cathedral, threaded itself through the blocked up rotating entrance doors, and when you were still waiting outside you could as well have been lined up for next year’s iPhone and it’d been faster to get one of those.

It was a long line, well presentable. I-have-been-in-the-upscale-office-all-day, smart casual, and dressed-to-impress were the looks. People were either waiting politely in silence, or whispering, or chatting cheerfully–with their voices down as not to bother the other nicely lined-up guests.

But there’s always that one guy. You know who. You have seen and heard him many times before. That one guy speaking loudly enough so that he could be having his conversations across the entire length of a football field. That one guy with a slightly concerned yet cheerful face who chats up anyone.

„Been here before? Oh, the view, fantastic!”, brushing through his thick hair with a big gesture, „Yeah, definitely. As a matter of fact, the first modern hotels were Inns in medieval Europe. Mid-17th century, mostly for coach travellers. People with big money…”, serious eye-balling now, will we silent people understand? „Mid-18th century onwards… at the earliest…”

Quite frankly: this archetype of a guy has an annoyingly active presence. But with a smooth, could-be-rather pleasant, strong voice, easy accent, unintended humour, and compelling short stories. Yet when he’s standing next to you, you would rather lower your head in order not to draw his attention.

This is the guy, who as a child, did not fall into The Word Gap. He was the child that got exposed to 40 million words more than the least cared for children. In his world, words, conversations, language, are as available as American Dollars are to Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. And by constantly talking, to whomever, he just keeps getting ahead of everyone else.

The crime stories of Wolf Haas read like as if that guy sat down with you over a casual drink, and is giving his very best efforts, at the height of his skills and his best knowledge, to tell you what happened.

That’s how smooth Wolf Haas’s narration flows. His stories are charged with references and credible details, impressive knowledge of local customs and circumstances, things that catch and hold attention. His written language is like spoken language. It’s full of colloquialisms (but no swearing), skipped words, half finished sentences, common phrases, catch phrases, and phrases to catch attention. Ok, here’s the best part. This is very interesting. That’s the important point. To understand this you need to know… He’s using these elements like Fast-Food restaurants are using salt, sugar, and frying oil. Put in enough of that and you can swallow anything. And – if on top – you have the right recipe for your sliders and burgers, then they will never get old.

However, there was something that puzzled me deeply. I watched a dozen or more interviews featuring Wolf Haas on Youtube. My problem was this: He’s quiet. He holds back. He crosses his legs and holds his head to the side with low muscle tone. He’s polite and almost shy. He waits until the interviewer finishes his question and then starts thinking about what he could answer. And halfway into his answers he would pull back and try to rephrase, respond to the interviewer’s facial expressions and body language. According to what I’ve seen on Youtube, Wolf Haas could definitely NOT pull off his written voice in actual speaking. Not by a long shot.

How does this match together?

This really bothered me. It bothered me over the course of a couple of weeks. It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I just could not match those two (completely different) sides of him together. How could such a quiet scholar, a meticulous craftsman, a former advertisement copywriter have such a powerful, fearless, highly entertaining written voice?

And then, as it is with many such things, it came to me suddenly. It was hot and dry all day, late afternoon already, I was driving and forcing my scooter through a difficult traffic situation, and while I pulled hard to the left, to avoid colliding with a wrong-way-driver from the right, I suddenly knew how Wolf Haas did it.

I wanted to end today’s writing on the previous paragraph. Leave you with this. But I can’t help but to share my epiphany. He might have done it like this:

Wolf Haas found himself his favourite „that one guy”, maybe knew him all along, distilled his distinct way of telling stories, and on that base modelled his narrator. Just like Richard Bandler and John Grinder model people. Model characters in a novel, certainly, but model the narrator? What a concept! What a twist! Wolf Haas is not only a courageous hero, but also a narrator-modelling genius.