In Anja Schmitter’s debut novel Leoparda, the world is falling apart at the seams. Virtuous teacher Kleo Frei quits her job and frees herself from all social obligations. Her metamorphosis is hinted at with a subtle grinding of the teeth.
Spring is unusually warm and rings in a hot summer. Birds of prey circle over the residential development and the amaryllis plant in the living room is bursting out of its pot. This restlessness is also felt by 30-year-old Kleo. Up until now, her life has proceeded in an orderly fashion, without any issues. She loves her parents, the schoolchildren she teaches and Ernst, to whom she is happily engaged. But all of a sudden, the lovely façade vanishes and an unruly beastliness breaks out in Kleo, living up to her name: Kleoparda Frei.
Anja Schmitter creates an atmosphere of unease in her novel. The unseasonal temperatures make the air shimmer and make their mark on people’s everyday lives. Signs of feralisation become noticeable in Kleo – subliminally at first, then more and more clearly. The nightly grinding of her teeth sharpens the canines, and in the zoo’s big cats house, Kleo breathes in the sweet, pungent smell with relish. Instead of taking a holiday, she locks herself up at home during the day and feeds cat food to the birds of prey; at night, she goes stalking through the city. She posts selfies on social media.
This liberating metamorphosis takes place with bizarre consistency. Kleo no longer believes that everything is for the best, as her mother constantly tries to persuade her. And as she transforms, the cheerful zeitgeist around her also seems to darken: houses move, the streets are yawningly empty and misfortune takes hold in her parents’ house. Kleo gets a hairdresser to dye her hair in a spotted leopard look, and her new fan base on Instagram applauds her enthusiastically. But when the smartphone goes off, everything comes crashing down. Is the world really out of balance, or is it all just a figment of her imagination? Schmitter leaves it open. Her prose operates on blurred lines, but without losing touch stylistically. Step by step and with a dense web of leitmotifs, she involves the reader in Kleo’s feralisation, which also expresses social unrest.
Text by Beat Mazenauer
- Lenos Verlag
- Translation rights
- Christoph Blum, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Publication date
- September 2022
Anja Schmitter was born 1992 in Münsterlingen, Switzerland. After studying German and comparative literature in Zurich, Bordeaux and Vienna, she went on to complete a Master’s in creative writing at Bern University of the Arts. Anja Schmitter has worked as author for a prison theatre in Zurich and as dramatist for the See-Burgtheater in Kreuzlingen. She lives in Zurich and writes fiction and literary reportage for publications such as Reportagen magazine. Leoparda is her first novel.
Photo: © Leticia Perrenoud