Berlin Syndrome by Melanie Joosten

Melanie Joosten’s fresh-to-the-big-screen thriller, Berlin Syndrome, is a story about Stockholm Syndrome. Set in Berlin, obvs.

Australian photographer (with an interest in former Eastern Bloc architecture), Clare, meets native Berliner and English teacher, Andi.

He was not really following her, he told himself, he was just curious to see where she was going. An anthropological study of a foreigner in Berlin.

There is an instant attraction and suddenly a holiday fling turns into something more sinister than Clare could have anticipated. Within days, Clare realises that she is trapped in Andi’s apartment and although she initially tries to escape, her attitude changes and she becomes a compliant prisoner.

I found Clare’s lack of fight a little hard to believe, particularly as there was no back-story to suggest that she had reason to crave attention or be submissive. In contrast, Andi’s back-story, was well thought out, giving reason as to why he became obsessed with Clare – I won’t say much more than the fact that Andi, living in East Berlin before the Wall came down, was shattered when his mother escaped to the West.

“You must miss her, Andi?” He is calmed by her voice and he does not want to disappoint her. “Of course.” But the truth is, he does not miss her. There is no point missing something when you cannot have it back.

Equally difficult to accept were the logistics of Clare’s captivity – the lack of neighbours; the apartment in a remote, abandoned block; Andi being able to leave and return each day without Clare making a lunge for the door – all seemed too convenient.

However, this story had me turning the pages. The occasional glimpses at the situation from Andi’s point-of-view were fascinating, as were the implications of Andi’s relationship history. Joosten   has created a frightening character in Andi and the tension is palpable in all of his scenes –

He has spent the day thinking through all the possibilities for their future, and the result is always the same. If she has the option, eventually she will leave. If she doesn’t have the option, she will stay. He sat at his desk after teaching his last class, and listed all the pros and cons on a sheet of paper. But it is far simpler than that. He can keep her here, or he can let her go.

The prisoner/ prison theme and the idea that we are all trapped by our history could have been overdone but Joosten has a light touch and the contrast between the literal and the self-inflicted is perfectly incorporated.

The ending of this story took me by surprise (a big plus for a thriller, don’t you think?) and certainly didn’t provide a neat resolution. Apparently the movie version of Berlin Syndrome is quite different to the book and I suspect the ending is where creative changes were made.

3/5 A better-than-average and not-so-predictable thriller.

Clare and Andi meet over a bag of strawberries. Then they go out for drinks. Pair Berlin Syndrome with Erdbeerbowle, a German strawberry wine punch.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 5): Belfast 11°-19° and Melbourne 10°-14°.





8 responses

    • It was a bit of an issue.

      As it happens, I was given a punch bowl last week, complete with little cups, hooks and a ladle. I’m hosting book group next week, so it would be rude not to make Erdbeerbowle…

  1. Hmm.. I toyed with the idea of seeing the film recently mainly because I’m besotted with Berlin, then thought I would see much of it given the story line. The Erdbeerbowie looks delicious!

    • I bought the book years ago because I’m also besotted with Berlin! Despite the fact that it’s largely set in one room, there are lots of mentions of the TV Tower…

      I don’t read many thrillers but as far as they go, this was better than average (I thought it was better written and more interesting than Girl on a Train and Gone Girl, for instance).

  2. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  3. this reminded me of the real life story of Patty Hearst the heiress who became a bank robber and blamed it on this syndrom though she’d previously shown no sign of submissive attitudes

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