In Love Notes from A German Building Site, Paul, a young Irish engineer, follows his German partner Eveline to Berlin. Eveline, however, has to travel elsewhere as part of her art studies and Paul is left to face the challenges of living in a new city on his own.
He begins to work as part of a team which is renovating a commercial building, but he has no friends or acquaintances and possesses a very limited knowledge of the language.
Inspired by various events from his own time spent on building sites, the author seamlessly blends the rigidity of engineering with the free-flowing beauty of artistry as a means of expression of love, love for people and the environments that surround them, both natural and man-made.
During his time on site, Paul learns new words and phrases using what is to become his bible, his German-English dictionary. He uses these ‘Love notes’ accordingly as a platform from which he can delve into deeper thoughts, observations and ponderings. There is a staunch realism to the scenarios described in the book, the grittiness of the hard labour and the demanding deadlines, yet they are entwined with an element of the romantic and an appreciation for the task, no matter how small. Paul possesses an ability to see beyond a simple structure in front of him and does not take his surroundings for granted.
He recognises the ebb and flow of life on the site and the pressures of the job often weigh heavily on his shoulders. While some, and even Paul himself may occasionally lose the head, there are here characters whose helpful actions ground him - the security guard who digs Paul out of a hole both figuratively and literally. It is challenging work, boring work, exciting work and Paul’s anxiety about the project is palpable throughout the novel.
While a building site set in a cold winter in Germany isn’t necessarily the most obvious setting for romance, for Paul it is. He cherishes the ordinary moments that make up love, each little gesture, even a shared silence with Eveline (when she is with him in Berlin.)
In such moments, the story celebrates those lucky enough to fall in love and the tale is sympathetic to those who must endure a lonely life without its tenderness. "It occurred to me that it didn’t matter if we never made it to Cologne, because hoping about life, however briefly, with another person is enough"
The author, Adrian Duncan is a Berlin-based Irish visual artist whose specialty is the study of structural engineering. If you were to brain storm the two concepts involved here they might seem at odds, one being fixed and defined by a set of rules while the other free flowing and unlimited. What Duncan presents n his short novel is a wonderfully-crafted, beautifully-blended hybrid.
Read an extract from Love Notes from a German Building Site here