Chapters 1-2 Summary
Udo Berger and his girlfriend, Ingeborg, are vacationing in the Costa Brava, a beachfront resort in the Catalonia region of Spain. Their hotel, the Del Mar, is a repository of memory for Udo, who is nostalgic for his childhood vacations spent with his brother and parents, his quirky and permissive Aunt Giselle, and José―a summer friend who worked at the Del Mar ten years ago. Uppermost in his wistful memories is Frau Else, the hotel's proprietor, who was kind to him as a child and whom Udo found beautiful and mysterious. His glimpse of Frau Else inspires an onrush of memory. He finds her ageless, and he looks forward to meeting her again.
Udo notes that both he and the hotel row, the Paseo Marítimo, have "come up in the world." The Del Mar is more luxurious, and he is a man now with a girlfriend whose beauty he is proud of, friendships he finds deep and meaningful, good health, and a steady job. He rhapsodizes about Ingeborg and hopes to marry her someday. She sleeps while Udo records his restless thoughts. Ingeborg hopes to enjoy the beach, the bars, and her Florian Linden detective novel for the weeks they spend in the Costa Brava. Udo intends to work.
Udo is disappointed that Frau Else does not remember him. He reports that after explaining at length who he is, even dredging up "some rather evocative incidents" he would rather not have, she recalls his mother and Aunt Giselle. Nevertheless, in her eventual response, "You've grown so much," he believes he detects subtle meanings.
Udo reveals that the diary he is keeping is an exercise suggested by his best friend, Conrad, to improve his writing. Udo wishes to prevent any defects in his writing by detracting from the content of his articles, which are published in "specialized journals." He is incensed by readers who, despite his stature as a champion in his field, insist on picking apart his grammar. He believes he is especially undermined by certain people in Stuttgart and Cologne who resent his having defeated them at a championship wargame. He rails against anonymous copy editors and one editor in particular who refused to publish one of his articles on the excuse of clumsy writing. On reflection, however, Udo is soothed by the accolades of fellow wargamers whose admiration he values.
The work that Udo does requires a large table, which he has requested to be sent to his room. A maid appears followed by another of the hotel staff, neither of which understands his need for a table larger than the one already furnished. Udo responds to their incomprehension with a fit of temper in which he takes the small table from his room and shoves it into the hallway. He alarms the receptionist, Miss Nuria, with his sarcasm-laden demand for a large table, and after receiving her assurance that she would "see what could be done," he collapses on the bed and laughs.
Udo is awakened by Frau Else, who has arrived personally with the requested table. She scolds him for abusing the staff, but he believes she views the situation with ironic humor. Udo finds his interest in Frau Else growing. Ingeborg asks about the table when she returns, and Udo explains its presence, detecting disapproval from her.
After dinner, Udo and Ingeborg go clubbing, where Udo is gratified by the envy he senses generated by his relationship with Ingeborg. They are joined by another German couple, Charly and Hanna. Udo is uncomfortable among strangers and isn't happy to suddenly have this pair thrust upon him. Charly and Hanna, however, are freewheeling and happy to have other German tourists to hang out with. Returning to the Paseo Marítimo after a night of heavy drinking, they are all looking forward to sleep except Charly, who runs off along the beach and briefly disappears. They find him among a group of rental pedal boats, which intrigue Udo because of their irregular arrangement―clearly deliberate but indecipherable to him.
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Udo's diary entry records the minutiae of his and Ingeborg's...
(The entire section is 12,033 words.)