Philipp Winkler lends a voice to the kind of men who ordinarily only throw punches. His debut novel deals with hooliganism. Winkler looks deep into the psyche of misfit men who are always ready to pick a fight.
"I warm my new mouth guard between my palms. Use my fingers to rotate it and squeeze it a little. It's what I do before each fight."
The first three sentences of Philipp Winkler's novel Hooligan propel the reader straight into a world that you would only know if you were part of it. It delves into the psyche of hooligans, and in this particular case it's all about the Hools, a group of hooligans from Hanover.
The book is narrated exclusively from the point-of-view of Winkler's protagonist Heiko Kolbe who, along with his blood brothers, fights other hooligan groups in the woods at night — to the point of ecstasy.
The reader follows Heiko's observations on dog-fights, on his forever-drunk father, on his wannabe-bourgeois sister and his long-lost mother. On his boastful uncle Alex, whose run-down gym is a regular stomping ground for failed martial arts enthusiasts, On coke-addicted bikers and neo-Nazi skinheads; and on many other wrecks of human nature.
But the story also shows human magnanimity. It focuses on steadfast, unending love and devotion — not only to the Hannover 96 soccer club, but to friends and to a person who has passed away. There's more to a hooligan than meets the eye.
"I can't believe it. I really have to control myself so I don't suddenly scream and tear up the bedding for joy. Then I look over at Kai and the euphoria sticks in my throat like a fat, slimy toad. He's slipped from his upright position back onto the bed. Lying on his side. His back to me. My palms radiate sweat. My neck goes cold, as if there was a draft right behind me. I bite my tongue, till the stabbing pain becomes a feeling of numbness. That lizard is gonna suffer so bad."
Heiko's only true friend Kai is in the hospital, half-dead. Heiko feels stuck somewhere between euphoria and pain. But admitting to true feelings is not something that he knows how to do. No one taught him about these things, about authenticity.
Yet, at the same time, Winkler's narrative sounds more than authentic: It employs the kind of language used by misfits and outcasts. It echoes their sadness and despair, but at the same time manages to remain hopeful and poetic, and even funny at times.
Hooligan gets under your skin — and remains there.
Philipp Winkler, Hooligan, Arcade Publishing, (German title: Hool, 2016). English translation: Bradley Schmidt.
Philipp Winkler grew up near Hannover and studied creative writing and journalism, graduating in 2012. He lives in Leipzig and works as a writer. Hooligan was one of six books that were shortlisted for the German Book Award in 2016.