The Club by Takis Würger 
Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 6:52AM
TChris in General Fiction, Germany, Takis Würger

First published in Germany in 2017; published in translation by Grove Atlantic on March 12, 2019

The Club is a story of privilege and of how the privileged come to believe that society’s rules do not apply to them. It might seem over-the-top if not for recent revelations about Swarthmore fraternities that used date-rape drugs and maintained a “rape attic.” The Club is also about the malleable nature of truth, “the stories we keep telling ourselves until we believe they’re the truth.”

The Club is told in the first person from the perspectives of several characters. The primary character is Hans. He was picked on when he was a kid, so his father took him to the gym for boxing lessons. Learning to fight taught him to tolerate other people.

Hans becomes an orphan shortly after the novel begins. Some of the story is narrated by Hans’ Aunt Alex from England, who becomes Hans’ guardian. Alex teaches art history at Cambridge. She considers herself mad, so she sends Hans to a Jesuit boarding school in Germany rather than dragging him into her abyss. Hans studies, works on his boxing with a monk, and tries to ignore his loneliness.

After a time, Alex invites Hans to become a student at Cambridge and to join the Pitt Club. The club is not dedicated to the admiration of Brad Pitt, but consists of a group of privileged students, some of whom box. Alex wants Hans to infiltrate the club and help her find out who committed a crime, the nature of which she refuses to identify. To that end, Alex meets a mysterious woman (a grad student of Alex’s) named Charlotte. Her father is Alex’s ticket to an invitation to join the Pitt Club.

The wealthy, upper-class students who belong to the Pitt Club are instantly unlikeable. One of those, Josh, occasionally narrates a section. He thinks of himself as a decent chap and has no clue what a prick he is, oblivious to the impact on others of his elitist attitude and his inability to manage his anger.

Charlotte’s wealthy father, Angus Farewell, also narrates some sections. Peter Wong, a foreign student who wants to join the Pitt Club, is one of the more interesting narrators, if only because he keeps a daily log of (among other things) his masturbation.

A couple of the characters are a bit clichéd — the gay victim of homophobia, the American who emphasizes his patriotism and his Christianity (which is apparently the way British writers see all Americans) — and the story has a contrived feel, relying on one coincidence too many. As an indictment of the sense of empowerment that comes naturally to the privileged, however, the story also feels real. Some of that reality comes from details that Takis Würger no doubt gleaned from his own brief membership in the Pitt Club.

The story moves at a steady pace. Its ending is easy to foresee, but the ending is satisfying. The novel might be faulted for simplifying complex social issues surrounding privilege and women’s rights, but Würger’s heart is in the right place and the story is timely.

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