The Hiding Game
The Hiding Game is the story of a group of students at the prestigious Bauhaus art school in interwar Germany. It focuses on Paul Beckermann’s enduring love for the mysterious and aloof Charlotte, and on the tangled relationships with other members of the group. The country is gripped by depression, hyperinflation and mounting political tension, and this is reflected in the lives of the students. They live for the moment, always in search of a new high – whether through extreme fasting, cocaine or love (especially when unrequited).
This novel reminded me of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, with its almost incestuous student clique. Their collective anxiety is heightened by the uncertainty that surrounds them – when, at a party, the narrator says that “things were falling apart” this could equally be a metaphor for the group or for the times. But it is also a story about art, and poses the question, what is good art? Is it the popular art peddled by the Nazi Ernst Steiner, or the Expressionism favoured by the Bauhaus? And how far did the War contribute to changing views on art (“after the war, what is order?”).
What I enjoyed most about this book was the description of the Bauhaus lessons, and the evolving artistic styles of the individual students. But I didn’t really warm to the characters, or find the story particularly compelling. And there were a few things that weren’t really clear – why was Walter still paying tuition fees seven years after starting at the Bauhaus, and what exactly happened to Charlotte? These ambiguities may have been intended by the author, but I found them slightly irksome. However, as a portrait of the time and the place it can’t be faulted.