Book review: The Patient Ecstasy of Fraulain Braun by Lavonne Mueller (Opus, 2013)
tl;dr: What, and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck?!
A disturbing, erotic novel about Hitler seen through the eyes of the woman who worshiped him
Eva understands Hitler is married to Germany and must herself stand back unacknowledged as he enclasps the world in a passionate, pythonlike thrall. Until the last days in the final chapter of the Third Reich (and the first chapter of the novel), when Adolf and Eva move into their first home together, the Fuhrerbunker. There, deep underground, hidden from the light of day and the light of history, but laid fully bare to the author’s unblinking eye, Eva Braun’s unquestioning patriotism and patience finally pay off—in a private wedding ceremony and a cyanide capsule.
Mueller imagines the claustrophobic and morally twisted underground world of the Third Reich’s last gasp. All the Fuhrer’s men and women, like rats in a trap, grow more and more desperate, more and more perverse, as they compete for the final crumbs of attention from their doomed leader. Only one soul remains calm amid the chaos: the ever-patient, ever pliant paramour of the vilest man who ever lived.
As the world around them goes astoundingly mad, their devotion to each other remains unsullied. Trusting. Even innocent.
My reaction when reading the book’s description in a Netgalley newsletter was something akin to “WTF?!” quickly followed by “that sounds so incredibly wrong I’m intrigued”, and so I requested it.
Having read it, I think calling it an erotic novel is to do it a dis-service (!). It’s not exactly “I gazed into his sapphire blue bedroom eyes and then he pressed his lips hard on mine and our two hearts beat as one” and so on. You get the idea. It’s not exactly a Mills & Boon Historical we’re talking about. (Wish that it was. Or do I? No, that would be even more disturbing!) Instead, go for wildly depraved and genuinely messed up collection of high-up Nazi characters as described by Eva Braun.
There is sex in there, oh yes, but to call it erotica … no, thank you. Isn’t the point of erotica that it’s, well, erotic? You know, titillating. Reading the novel, the first adjective that came to mind wasn’t “erotic”, it was “squicky”, because it was about a bunch people getting incredibly frisky very near the end of the war (desperate times, desperate measures?) and not caring who saw them.
The one who gets around the most is Magda Goebbels, the wife of the propaganda minister, who doesn’t seem to know how to keep her legs closed. It makes me wonder how the author can get away with writing real people in this way if there isn’t any hard evidence that they really were like that in reality. I mean, hello, slander? Defamation of character? Then again, it’s pretty difficult to make someone who murdered her six children in their sleep before committing suicide sound like a worse person than she actually was. And that’s even if you put aside the fact that she was a prominent Nazi and married to Hitler’s propaganda minister. If anyone has defamed her character, surely she did that herself!
But it makes you wonder. It says the book has been researched and everything, but how much of this stuff can you actually find? Eva and “Adi” sharing soup in Munich? Hitler’s mum basically climaxing by having her feet rubbed by her son? (Hey, I did say it was squicky!) That Eva worked in a photography shop in Munich when she first met Hitler is something you can find by just going to Wikipedia, but all the rest? I’m left wondering what “facts” are actual, verifiable, historical facts and what’s been made up for dramatic purposes.
At any rate, The Patient Ecstasy of Fraulein Braun is not “Führer Porn”, nor does it paint the Führerbunker’s inhabitants and the Nazi party leadership in ways that are remotely flattering, even if Eva herself of course thinks her darling “Adi” is a genius and the bestest thing since sliced bread and she can’t wait to marry him and shag his brains out, despite him having haemorrhoids and rashes and other not-so-savoury issues. The autobiography and diary of Eva Braun is not for those of a weak stomach. (Still, I’ve read worse.)
You keep forgetting it’s written by an American author and not Eva Braun herself, and the only real criticism I have (aside from “OMG, ewwww!!”) is the gratuitous use of German phrases. Either stick with the English translation – considering the rest of the book is in English anyway – or don’t write it twice it if it’s just one word. Or put the translation in a footnote to avoid repeating yourself by writing something like “Verdammt. Damned.” It clogs up the flow.
Aside from that, it was an interesting read. I can’t say it was enjoyable, because if anything it was deeply uncomfortable, but it was … different. Fascinating, in a “looking inside the mind of a crazy lady” sort of way.
If you want a to read about a bunch of perverts ruling most of Europe, about to lose a war and therefore planning suicide, being described by a mentally deranged person, then … this is it. And how it ends? With a bang.
3.8 out of 5 bombed streets.