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All That Counts

Georg Oswald <em>Atlantic Books, 166pp, £9.99</em>

ISBN 1903809177

To behave without regard for others is the sin of solipsism, of treating one's fellows as if they do not really exist. But sometimes, it is the very opposite that leads to thoughtlessness - when certain events make a person feel intangible, disbelieving that they could ever have the power to make another suffer. Something like this predicament befalls Thomas Schwarz, the hero of All That Counts, by the German novelist Georg Oswald.

For the first few chapters, Schwarz earns his living in a corporate world where reverse solipsism is an occupational hazard. He cheerfully recounts the loss of his job and marriage in deadpan lines that beg to be read aloud by Kevin Spacey. Oswald gives straight answers to the questions that the Oscar-winning American Beauty dodged. In place of the sports car of his dreams, the affections of a nymphet and a new life of authenticity, Schwarz squanders his redundancy on prostitutes and falls in with gangsters. He cannot feel that this is a decline, because he cannot believe that it, or anything else, is important - even when he is throttled half to death by a drug-dealing fitness instructor. Schwarz attempts to extricate himself as blithely as he brought about his own punishment; the key to both is that the world will never accept at face value someone who genuinely does not care.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A plan for the world