While travelling in Berlin taking photographs of architecture, Clare meets the charming Andi, a German English teacher. What seems to be a tale of holiday romance quickly turns sour, as Clare comes to realize that Andi is not what he seems and finds herself being kept captive in his apartment. During her captivity she submits to Stockholm Syndrome, simultaneously hating and desiring her captor and her situation. Most interesting about Melanie Joosten’s debut novel Berlin Syndrome is that the story is told from the perspective of both characters.
Told mainly through internal monologues of the two central characters, we become aware of the ambivalence of both: Clare wanting to escape and not wanting to escape, Andi knowing what he is doing is wrong, but not knowing how to stop it. There seems to be a very vague suggestion that the situation in Andi’s apartment is meant to mirror the experience of the divide in post-war Berlin, a similarity between feeling trapped in by the walls and The Wall. I don’t yet know enough about the history of Berlin to sense if this is applicable here, but I did pick up on a parallel being drawn.
Berlin Syndrome is a fast-paced novel told with claustrophobic tension. You feel as though you too are trapped in the apartment, staring aimlessly through the window at the television tower. As the violence, both emotional and physical, escalates, their relationship and Clare’s entrapment becomes more complex, almost seeming impossible to resolve. Though the ending works on a thematic and symbolic level, I’m not sure if it is narratively satisfying. However, Berlin Syndrome is a powerfully taut examination of the psychology of captivity from both the captor and the captive perspectives and the tension and suspense created is more than enough to keep the reader hooked.