Reviews of SPIEL

This page contains quotes from reviews of Spiel. I’ve included a link to the entire review where it’s available.

JUNE 2011

Sonja’s creative journal

This book has serious plot twists and turns, dark characters, and will keep you guessing right up until the end. Spiel is a novel that really gripped me but, be warned, it’s not the kind of book you put down and come back to. To keep up with the plot twists you’ll want to give it your undivided attention. I think it would make a great movie, and if you’re into movies like Inception…then you’ll get a thrill out of Spiel.

The full post at Sonja’s Creative Journal


SamuelW on LibraryThing

Spiel appears (to me, at least) to be a novel about decay – about the inevitable breakdown of order in cities, stories, civilisations, personalities. Perhaps it is only fitting, then, that the structure of the novel itself decays; the story does not so much wind up as it does break down. But after being knocked around in this tumble dryer of a book for two hundred pages, readers won’t be expecting a normal conclusion. They won’t quite know what to expect. Sornig’s almost-real world is pervaded by a lurking sense of the bizarre. We are constantly made aware that we are in a different reality, with different rules, and there will be no clear resolution to this story. Much of the time, we’re left unsure if these characters even exist – and yet, in this context, to talk of anything as clear-cut as existence seems almost childish. ‘Spiel’ is the German word for ‘game’, and Sornig’s novel is a game that the reader cannot win.

The full review on LibraryThing


Lisa Bennett Transnational Literature, Issue 1, Vol. 3, November 2010.

We are more than willing to be implicated in this game…because Sornig’s prose is beautifully crafted, his turn of phrase refined – and because, as all great works of fiction should, his novel asks more questions than it answers.

Link to the entire review here [PDF]

JULY 2010

Adèle Garnier, Zeitschrift für Australienstudien, Issue 24 (2010), pp. 136-39 (extracts)

…Spiel’s sinuosity mostly benefits from Sornig’s singular writing style. At its best, the novelist effortlessly combines a dreamlike symbolism with a details-focused narration replete with names, places, colours and sounds…This sensual style allows for evocative renderings of both a sweaty, sunburnt Australian suburbia and a cold, dark and magical Berlin. One of the strongest chapters of the novel deals with the ultimate revelation of Rosa Stumm’s identity. Almost entirely recounted through dialogues, the sequence masterly entangles individual and collective memories while giving the Stasi reports a cathartic, disturbing significance…

…Spiel is a gripping read and Sornig’s distinct literary voice obvious. The novel enriches contemporary Australian literature encountering the European past, such as, besides Anna Funder’s Stasiland, Christos Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe (2005) and Steven Conte’s The Zookeeper’s War (2007). Spiel can also be read as an Antipodean homage to Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka. As such, the book might especially appeal to readers who enjoy tortuous and introspective mysteries blurring the line between fiction and reality.

JUNE 2010

Steven R. Luebke, ‘Dream Quest’, Antipodes (Brooklyn N.Y.), June 2010, pp.114-115

Spiel has interesting characters and effective language. Its plot is full of coincidences and clues that may lead to moments of revelation but also to questions. It is a novel that pays dividends on multiple readings and will surely keep some readers puzzling over it long after they have finished reading.


Nicholas Birns, ‘Best Books of the Year’, Australian Book Review, December 2009, p.20

David Sornig’s taut and gripping Spiel…builds on the work of Tsiolkas and McCann in re-theorising Australia’s relationship to Europe – perhaps not dead, but at least on life support – and also establishes a genealogy of the relation of the queasy present to the totalitarian past different from the orthodox ones.


Ian McFarlane, Canberra Times, 07.11.2009 Panorama p.14

David Sornig’s Spiel opens in post-Cold War Berlin where the narrator, Karl, a student of architecture, has fled a tangled an troubled past in seach of the German ancestry that might stabilise his future. On arrival from Melbourne, jet lagged and emotionally exhausted, he is confronted by a blind woman who asks if he wants to play a game. Intrigued, he follows her to a theatre, where a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is taking place. At the woman’s insistence, they leave during the interval, avoiding the terrorist bomb that destroys the theatre, killing most of the performers and the audience.

Later, Karl wakes alone in the woman’s flat, failing to find any trace of her, despite a frantic search. Even worse, he discovers the theatre still intact, with no reports of a bomb, and is told that the mysterious woman doesn’t exist. This irresistibly spooky opening thickens into a metaphysical thriller about atonement, where memory, metaphor and imagination blur the paranoid secrecy of political extremism with Dante’s Inferno and the burning heat of a Melbourne summer to produce a cathartic rite of passage.

…[a] powerful example of the strength of contemporary Australian literary fiction…and as such [is] highly recommended.

Melinda Harvey, Australian Book Review, November 2009

Some extracts from Harvey’s review:

…The book’s meaning grows in its careful intertwining of [its] narrative strands.

…Where Dead Europe is nihilistic, Spiel is elegaic. It is too lost and saddened to rage or shock. Its more is lyrical and frequently tender.

…The book has many pitch-perfect or resonant sections of writing. In Karl’s letters, Sornig nails the satisfied precocity of the child’s voice.

…The early scenes describing Karl’s involvement with a Ukraninan family headed by a volatile father are equally strong, capturing that uneasy mix of attraction and bewilderment that defines so many childhood friendships divided along ethnic lines. The later Australian sections of the novel … are also rewarding, capturing with queasy precision his self-conscious undergraduate nihilism.

…While the earlier Berlin sections of the novel are a precsiely calibrated mixture of dream and reality, the later sections, impatient with plot and revelation are comparatively less gripping…Sornig’s writing is surer in the earlier evocations of childhood and the skilful mimicry of government documents.

…an ambitious and frequently successful novel…interested in exploring memory, redemption and fate in the context of eschatological Berlin…at its best when it sticks close to home…


Mark Bond-Webster, Eastern Daily Press,  Norwich, UK, 19.09.2009, p.18

…an audacious first novel that challenges the conventions of social realism dominant in contemporary fiction. Spiel is unabashedly experimental, owing much to Joyce and Kafka, Borges and Pynchon. It opens with an invitation – “Want to play a game? says the blind woman.” – and the game she proposes is one that challenges the nature of narrative itself. Specifically, it challenges the determinism of traditional narratives in which characters become “puppets”, their fates fixed and immutable; the game is an invitation to readers to free characters from their authorial straitjackets, to intervene and reshape narratives making them sites of play pregnant with possibilities and alternatives….

…a challenging, bold and inventive novel.

Gillian Dooley, Writers Radio, Adelaide

A young Australian of German descent arrives in Germany, where he encounters a blind woman on the street. She asks him if he wants to play a game. Intrigued, he agrees.

This is the premise of David Sornig’s novel Spiel, and so begins a vertiginous chase through the streets, theatres, clubs and dwellings of Berlin, high culture colliding with the most debased pornography, secrets and echoes from the East German Stasi and the Nazi era infecting the protagonist’s most intimate connections. In the background to the story runs the most famous singspiel of all, The Magic Flute.

Karl is an architecture student who has lost his faith in the profession. ‘I feel more and more,’ he muses, ‘that the fate of civilisations is to fail and that the fate of cities, if they are the face of that civilisation, is to collapse under the irresistible weight of nature’s blind will to find balance, to disrobe humanity of its imperial mantle’ (142). Karl’s apocalyptic tendencies lead him to behave with reckless abandon, and seem to have removed him from the world of normal human morality.

In parallel with the German narrative, which covers only a couple of days, we follow a long back‐story: of Karl’s grandfather, an architect in Berlin in the Nazi era, and his uncle who gave up architecture when the Berlin wall fell; of Karl’s one‐sided childhood correspondence with an East German pen‐friend Rosa Stumm, and of his frustrating relationship with Annie Rivers, close as a friend but unobtainable as a lover. Annie is a beautifully drawn character: ‘Voluminous, voluptuous: grave and greedy,’ she has her own inimitable way of controlling people: ‘She never really asks for my help. Asking isn’t her thing. It’s more an enlistment’ (16). Interspersed in the text are extracts from the Stasi file of Rosa Stumm, rescued from a freezing river in childhood, afflicted by blindness and amnesia. The several strands of the story interweave and build together to a chilling, though explosive, climax.
Spiel is the kind of book you’ll want to read twice: there’s so much on a first reading that is mysterious. Some of the mysteries will be clarified, but Sornig leaves us with an intriguing residue of uncertainty. The prose is wonderfully stylish and maintains the sense of danger and threat at a perfect pitch throughout. It’s artful, sinewy, elegant and enigmatic.

Broadcast date Monday September 28, 2009, 3.30pm on 101.5 Radio Adelaide, Writers Radio. Rebroadcast Saturday October 3, 2009, 12pm. Podcast details to follow.

The original transcript of this review is available here [pdf 42kb]

Cameron Woodhead, The Age, A2, Melbourne, 12.09.2009, p. 26

LOCAL author David Sornig has created a disorienting and densely woven novel. The narrator is a Melbourne architect who leaves the burning streets of a Melbourne summer for Berlin, spurred by the death of a relative to plumb the secrets of his heritage. As soon as he arrives, he meets a blind woman, Rosa Stumm, who invites him to play a game, the rules of which remain a mystery. A bomb blast at a theatre, and she disappears. Two strands of the novel unspool: one full of vivid and realistic episodes about being young in Melbourne in the ’80s; the other a metaphysical thriller involving Nazis and the Stasi and the fall of the Berlin Wall, that drifts between freedom fighters and porn lords, Kafka-like epistles and grotesque hallucinations. The Melbourne scenes are delivered with clear-eyed nostalgia and authenticity; the Berlin stuff is at once over-theatrical and meandering. Sornig could use a ruthless editor, but his talent is such that I’m sure we’ll hear more from him.

JULY 2009

Tim Coronel, Australian Bookseller and Publisher

…it is to be commended for its ambitious sweep and recommended to those who relish a challenging read.

Link to the review here

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