In the late summer of 1963, his mother delivered eleven-year-old Arthur Goldau as a newcomer to the monastery school in the majestic and bleak monastery Maria zum Schnee in the Swiss mountains. Despite the season, it snows. The atmosphere is oppressive, unadorned. An impression that Arthur will only intensify in the years he spends there.
Eccentric characters, sharply defined
In a small room, mother and son are waiting to be greeted. The two of them look out the window into the darkness when suddenly before them stands a majestic figure as if sprung from the ground: a blond giant, smelling of incense and the smell of goats, dressed in robe and duty. Monks sandals. Several toes are missing from his giant feet. It is not yet clear where this distortion came from. This is Brother Frieder, the prefect of the monastery, about whom the most wild rumors circulate in the monastic community:
Originally he worked in the meat department of the kitchen and as a butcher, as the kitchen workers reported with goosebumps, he killed several old bulls with an axe. The manner in which he became ruler will likely always remain a mystery. He himself claimed that he had been appointed by the abbot, but that would have been a real miracle – the prince-head of the monastery has been in extinction for years. “
Brother Frieder, the conservative, is just one of the many sharply drawn, sometimes brutal, sometimes grotesque characters that fill Thomas Hurlimann’s new novel. Among them is also the old lunatic abbot, to whom his servant reads the frivolous novels of the “Jerry Cotton” series for hours. But this too, as it will become clear later, is not just an outlandish idea, but an important detail that Hürlimann incorporated into the mechanics of his highly ingenious novel.
Motif chains meticulously worked
Hürlimann, who was a student at the famous Einsiedeln Abbey in northern Switzerland in the 1960s, mixes fiction and autobiographical experiences into a gritty, thrilling, and literally fantastic book, whose chains are meticulously worked on. One thread of the narrative is a description of daily life in the monastery: remoteness, and brutality in dealing with teenagers.
Hürlimann always succeeds in scary passages. The second story is run through Arhor’s notes to a classmate. This slightly limp boy, soon nicknamed “The Snake” by Arthur, satisfies parents’ demands for lack of clarity, compromising excellence, and lack of mediocre performance, so that Arthur watches him:
“His habit was perfect disguise. He used his wits to conceal them—from a scriptural standpoint, his light was only burning under the bushel.”
Viber is looking for treasure. The ruby that gives the novel its title is said to have been worn by Cleopatra and was the last Habsburg Emperor Charles I. When restoration of the stone was attempted in 1921, a submerged group of actors was rumored to have smuggled the stone to Switzerland and the Maria Schnee Monastery via a brothel in Odunburg, Hungary.
The fact that Zita von Bourbon-Parma visited the monastery year after year – and the description of these visits is also a highlight of the novel – is evidence of “Viper” and Arthur that the jewel is still in the abbey: “On the high festival of the Immaculate Conception, I entered The red diamond on the shield of Lohengren Switzerland and dipped in the last pen of Kakan later in the afternoon. But who received him here? How did he get to his lair? Where was he?”
In parts, “The Red Diamond” is a thrilling adventure novel charged with philosophy. The intricate architecture of the monastery, with its secret entrances and staircases, is as much a part of the stone quest as the monastery’s religious rituals and the intricate technology used to secure the sacred Black Madonna, the monastery’s symbol.
Everything is linked in this book, and one cannot admire enough how Hürlimann traces here. Legend is more alive within the walls of the monastery than historical or present truth. But both storm into the closed, decaying monastery system with might, not least with a distant melody: “The times, they change.”
Amazingly clever literature
After a stunning confrontation, Hürlimann returns protagonist Arthur to Maria Schnee in a time jump that lasted several decades. It seems that ghosts of the past still dwell in the now abandoned and dilapidated building:
“They’re back, clogs scattered. I was sure the rumble was a dream and not a reality—there was no one in this ghost world but me. Nobody. Nobody. Not an ex-priest, not an ex-disciple, and suddenly the voices stopped. Silence. Complete calm. “
The evil “Snake” also gets a great appearance at the end, before Hürlimann sends a first-person narrator on a journey – to Rome, to the Vatican. It’s the latest logical twist in a book that won’t soon be forgotten: “The Red Diamond” is an astonishingly good and incredibly clever novel, written by an author as mature as his life experience.