Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566
Written six years after Jenseits der Liebe (1976; Beyond All Love, 1982), this short novel returns to the main character of that earlier work, Franz Horn. Here and in the previous work, Martin Walser studies the psyche of a moderately successful contemporary businessman. Horn is no economic dynamo; in fact, he considers himself worthless when compared to his more successful rivals—and in this case, everyone is a rival. Horn bemoans the fact that the only two men who could be his friends are his boss, Arthur Thiele, and his rival, Dr. Horst Liszt.
On the Friday before the Whitsuntide holiday, the department heads of Chemnitz Dentures are called together for an announcement of the suicide of their main competitor, Benedikt Stierle. Since Franz Horn hoped to quit his job and apply for a position with Stierle, this event occasions his reflections on his life and work as set forth in a letter (with nineteen separate postscripts) to his colleague and rival, Dr. Liszt.
Expected at his mother’s home for her name-day celebration (his wife and daughters await his arrival), Horn is incapable of movement. He slumps at his desk and begins a letter of apology to Liszt, citing their most recent disagreement at a local inn while waiting for Arthur Thiele to pick them up in his sailboat. From Horn’s behavior and responses on that day, it has become evident to Liszt that Horn has never liked him; as they are leaving the restaurant, Horn insists on separate taxis, an obvious insult to Liszt. Liszt himself must always be in the right, must constantly project his personality over his subordinates and colleagues, hence the appellation “Lord” in the title.
Since Liszt has not responded in the intervening week to Horn’s apologetic note, Horn now wishes to write again, pleading for forgiveness. Yet as night progresses and the letter grows in volume, Horn clarifies for Liszt (and for himself) the true nature of their relationship. They have not been friends, but in the light of the coming merger of their small company with the giant Bayer conglomerate, perhaps they should now band together for their mutual protection and survival.
The letter and its numerous postscripts gradually reveal the recent chronology of Horn’s life: his position at the Internal Revenue Service prior to assuming the new post with Chemnitz Dentures; his immediate rise to favor with Arthur Thiele; his estrangement and departure from his wife and two daughters, followed by an eventual suicide attempt; and, finally, his rehabilitation over the past four years, including the adversarial relationship with Liszt. Now the impending merger and subsequent division of personnel threaten Horn’s vulnerable ego and precarious security. The inner circle will move with Thiele to concentrate on the new factory for surfboards, while the expendables will remain at the present site under the observation of efficiency experts, who will soon discover that Horn sleeps at his desk while Liszt drinks at his; that both will thus soon be replaced is obvious to Horn.
Following this all-night exertion, Horn finds that he can neither send the letter to Liszt nor bring himself to destroy it. He finally files it away in a secret drawer and, relieved, discovers that he can now continue his life. He showers and gets in the car for the early morning drive to his mother’s, ready to celebrate her name day properly.