An excoriating critique of societal hypocrisy – political, religious and sexual – in late 1950s Bonn, told through the eyes of Hans Schnier, clown. An artist from a family of wealthy industrialists during the post-war German boom, he refuses to conform or to compromise in the face of society’s short memory and smug double standards. As the book opens he finds himself penniless and abandoned by the woman he loves; he holes up in his soulless apartment dissecting the past with only his injured knee and a bottle of cognac for company…

Actually not anything like as depressing as it sounds, Hans is a clown after all.

On its publication in 1963, The Clown triggered the wrath of the conservative German press and establishment due to its extrememly negative portrayal of the Catholic church and the CDU party. Böll himself was a liberal Catholic and was unable to forget the Concordat of July 1933 between the Vatican and the Nazis, an agreement which helped legitimise the regime at an early stage. He publicly left the church in 1976.

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