The Club

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

In Takis Wurger's The Club, we first meet our protagonist Hans as a young boy, solitary at heart but happy, living with his parents in a small town in Germany. But when both of those loving parents die in quick succession, his only living relative is his strange aunt Alex, a professor at Cambridge University. She sends him off to boarding school, where one of the teachers helps him to channel his depression into athletics and he becomes a skilled boxer. When he graduates, his aunt approaches him with an offer: she will get him into Cambridge, in exchange for his agreement to infiltrate the Pitt Club, one of the campus's private social groups.

Once Hans reaches England, Alex arranges for him to meet up with Charlotte, one of her graduate students. At first, Charlotte is necessary for Hans to gain entry to the Pitt Club's world, through her wealthy and well-connected father, but the two form a genuine connection. Hans gets drawn deeper into the Club as his pugilistic talents cement his place inside of it. But Alex didn't ask him to become one of them for his own enjoyment...she has plans to expose a secret and revenge a wrong in a way that could bring it all crashing down.

The secrets here are not too difficult to guess at: there's no surprise that groups of young, privileged men engage in drug use and sexual assault, and then manage largely to escape consequences for it. What makes this particular account of this phenomenon more interesting than most is its air of reality: Wurger himself attended Cambridge and was a member of the Pitt Club before leaving the university. And the book is lucky that it has that additional quirk, because as a mystery/thriller it isn't really successful...the plot development is straightforward and goes pretty much exactly where you expect it to go.

Which isn't to say that it doesn't do some things well! Wurger's technique of narrating the story through multiple perspectives (Hans is the most prominent, but Charlotte, Alex, fellow Club member Josh, and a Chinese student desperate to be accepted are heard from among others) is effective and keeps the story moving forward briskly. Hans, drawn as a self-sufficient introvert, is a refreshing character to spend time with...while he certainly does appreciate the finer things in life he's able to access once he's inside, we don't get the dazzled-then-disillusioned arc typical in this kind of work. The subject matters feels timely and relevant. If you like these kinds of books, you'll likely find this solid yet unremarkable. If you're looking for something to take you somewhere unexpected, though, look elsewhere.
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First published in Germany in 2017; published in translation by Grove Atlantic on March 12, 2019

The Club is a story of privilege and of how the privileged come to believe that society’s rules do not apply to them. It might seem over-the-top if not for recent revelations about Swarthmore fraternities that used date-rape drugs and maintained a “rape attic.” The Club is also about the malleable nature of truth, “the stories we keep telling ourselves until we believe they’re the truth.”

The Club is told in the first person from the perspectives of several characters. The primary character is Hans. He was picked on when he was a kid, so his father took him to the gym for boxing lessons. Learning to fight taught him to tolerate other people.

Hans becomes an orphan shortly after the novel begins. Some of the story is narrated by Hans’ Aunt Alex from England, who becomes Hans’ guardian. Alex teaches art history at Cambridge. She considers herself mad, so she sends Hans to a Jesuit boarding school in Germany rather than dragging him into her abyss. Hans studies, works on his boxing with a monk, and tries to ignore his loneliness.

After a time, Alex invites Hans to become a student at Cambridge and to join the Pitt Club. The club is not dedicated to the admiration of Brad Pitt, but consists of a group of privileged students, some of whom box. Alex wants Hans to infiltrate the club and help her find out who committed a crime, the nature of which she refuses to identify. To that end, Alex meets a mysterious woman (a grad student of Alex’s) named Charlotte. Her father is Alex’s ticket to an invitation to join the Pitt Club.

The wealthy, upper-class students who belong to the Pitt Club are instantly unlikeable. One of those, Josh, occasionally narrates a section. He thinks of himself as a decent chap and has no clue what a prick he is, oblivious to the impact on others of his elitist attitude and his inability to manage his anger.

Charlotte’s wealthy father, Angus Farewell, also narrates some sections. Peter Wong, a foreign student who wants to join the Pitt Club, is one of the more interesting narrators, if only because he keeps a daily log of (among other things) his masturbation.

A couple of the characters are a bit clichéd — the gay victim of homophobia, the American who emphasizes his patriotism and his Christianity (which is apparently the way British writers see all Americans) — and the story has a contrived feel, relying on one coincidence too many. As an indictment of the sense of empowerment that comes naturally to the privileged, however, the story also feels real. Some of that reality comes from details that Takis Würger no doubt gleaned from his own brief membership in the Pitt Club.

The story moves at a steady pace. Its ending is easy to foresee, but the ending is satisfying. The novel might be faulted for simplifying complex social issues surrounding privilege and women’s rights, but Würger’s heart is in the right place and the story is timely.

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Though The Club has a intriguing premise, I found myself strangely unengaged with the story. It read more like a factual report to me.  The main character seems like more of an observer than a participant in his life and in the events of the story.  I can't say it was badly written, the narrative style just wasnt for me. 
I received my copy through NetGalley under no obligation.
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The Club wasn't what I was expecting. It was a little confusing in the beginning. I had a hard time wanting to keep reading. The book gets better in the middle and has an ok ending. The full circle of the story was interesting, but not enough for me to recommend this book to friends.

I do think The Club would make a good movie. I liked the setting and the characters. The imagery would make a great setting for a movie and maybe the story told in that way would be more interesting.
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This has to be one of the most bizarrely terrible things I’ve ever read. So, the reason I requested this book is because its summary reminded me of a film I like, The Riot Club, which is based off a play I like, Posh by Laura Wade. It’s an ugly story, one that examines the kind of privilege and entitlement and classism and toxic masculinity inherent to elite dining clubs. These are all themes that interest me, and I suppose they must also interest Takis Würger, but they couldn’t have been presented in a more shallow or superficial way in this book if he tried. Characters are caricatures, conflict is nonexistent, the writing is dreadful and perfunctory, the point of view shifts are awkward, and the treatment of its subject matter is appalling. So, let’s begin!

The Club follows Hans, a German orphan whose aunt Alex contacts him out of the blue when he turns 18 and promises to secure him a place at Cambridge, where she works as a professor in art history, but in return he has to investigate the Pitt Club, an all-male dining club who have committed some kind of crime. There will be some spoilers in the rest of this review, which I try to avoid but frankly I don’t care because I wouldn’t wish this book on anyone else, but if you don’t want to spoiled, quit this review while you’re ahead.

So, it’s revealed about halfway through that the crime being investigated is rape, and this is handled… about as crudely as humanly possible (also, trigger warnings for the rest of this review as well as for the book). Aside from the fact that Hans’ main source of internal conflict comes from whether he should betray the rapists who have become his friends (my heart goes out to you dude, must be real tough), and culminates in a positively absurd scene where Hans is debating whether or not he should allow a drugged girl to be raped in order to obtain damning evidence of the club before overcoming his moral quandary by scooping her up and running out the door with her (never mind the other girls who have been left behind at that party?!), we also have an utterly senseless relationship between Hans and Charlotte, one of the Pitt Club’s former victims, which is treated with all the nuance and sensitivity that this sentence would suggest: “I couldn’t stop thinking about how wounded she had seemed when she told me about being raped. I wondered what it meant for us.” Yes, seriously. And even if we can look past the fact that the entire premise hinges on a man getting justice for a woman being raped, which is a narrative that just… needs to end, period, the way it’s handled is so clumsy. Like, at one point, Hans grabs Charlotte’s arm and she tells him off because she’d promised herself she’d never let a man touch her without her permission again… good! But then later, she apologizes to him for that?! Würger goes to great pains to remind us that poor orphaned Hans is the real victim in all this.

And aside from all that, it’s just… bad? It’s mostly told from Hans’ perspective, but other POVs are thrown in and not a single one of them furthers the narrative. We hear from other members of the club who talk like… well, like this: “Basically, I was living proof that money, a place at Cambridge, and a big dick don’t make you happy. Fuck.” We hear from Alex, who just… weirdly rehashes conversations that we’d JUST read from Hans’ perspective. We hear from Charlotte, who you’d think had accidentally slammed her finger in a car door for all the impact a traumatic assault had on her. We hear from a Chinese student named Peter who’s obsessed with gaining entry to the club at all costs, and I guess he was also friends with Charlotte at one point but I’m not sure why that detail was included as it’s never mentioned again? None of it amounts to anything – some of these characters have arcs, others do not, but nothing is resolved except for the mystery of who raped Charlotte, which is never really a mystery at all (I’ll give you a hint: he has a big dick and he’s unhappy).

And even Hans is a generic non-entity of a character. This is the kind of insight that Hans would regularly treat us to: “I didn’t listen to music; I jogged without music, boxed without music. There’d been music at my parents’ funeral.” There’d been music at his parents’ funeral so he could never listen to music again????? There’d also been clothes as his parents’ funeral, I’d assume?! (Also, his parents didn’t die at the same time, meaning they would have had multiple funerals, but I’m hoping that was just a typo.) And also: “Charlotte fell asleep on my elbow. After my parents’ death I’d thought I could never love again, because the fear of losing someone was too great. I had grown cold inside. Now here was this woman, lying on my arm.” Cliche after cliche after cliche. This book just… has nothing at all to say. It wants to be edgy and groundbreaking and enlightening but it is just so painfully vapid in every conceivable way.

I mean, it’s quick and readable, I’ll give it that, but my god, at what cost.

Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
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Good English translation of a German book, the first by author Takis Wurger.  Hans is a small for his age, dreamy child whose parents die young, prompting him to fall under the tutelage of his aunt.  She sends him off to boarding school and then to Cambridge with a mission.  He is to join a famed secret society and learn its deep secrets while solving an old crime.  This book is short, focused, easy to read and fast.  I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
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The Club is an intriguing and memorable story. It's written in a style that flows well and it's easy to consume. It features points of view from each of the main characters which keep it dynamic, but at the same time it manages to keep the plot tangle free. The characters are engaging and well-developed. Everything about this book is executed well, which made it such a joy to read. I recommend this book and I look forward to reading Würger's writing in the future too.
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The first chapter in this book is extremely lyrical and poetic, so much so that I did not see the rest of the story unraveling the way it did but I loved every word. This book is about several themes: isolation, privilege, entitlement, and toxic masculinity are some of them. This book reads like a study in loneliness and how those who were raised believing that they can do anything feel above the law. Throughout much of the book, the reader will feel like everyone knows more than the main character and them and I found the way how certain scenes that we know happened between two chapters are only referred by the characters instead of being in th book was extremely interesting.
I loved everything in this novel from the characters that were well developed and were like anyone I had ever read about but still feeling like everyone you see in the news and even meet to the pace of the story.
I'm looking forward to whatever Takis Wurger writes next and for the movie, whenever they decide to adapt this novel to the big screen.
Thank you to Net Galley and Grove Press for this ARC.
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An interesting outsider taken on the privileged at Cambridge University. Hans is a young German man who is persuaded by his Aunt Alex, a professor of art history at Cambridge, to join the Pitt Club. He's a boxer and that helps him, to some extent, to engage with the other young men.  Things change, however, when he falls in love with Charlotte.  Told from multiple perspectives- which is a plus- it does have a strong point of view about secret societies.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  For fans of literary thrillers.
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This book seems to be Wurger's first book translated into English.  His other novels are still in German.  Hans is a socially awkward boy who has been deeply affected by the death of both of his parents in a short time frame and his aunt putting him in a boarding school. While at school Hans got proficient at boxing and as he gets ready to graduate his aunt comes to get him saying she needs help.  She wants him to go undercover in one of the wealthy Social clubs at Cambridge but she won't tell him why.

This is a well written, intricately plotted book.  There are layers to this book that unfold as you go. Chapters are broken down by different characters giving a different perspective for what is going on. However there is an Asian character that just always felt out of place.  I'm not sure what Wuger was attempting with this character other than to show how hard it is for non-whites in this very upscale elite club scene. 

The privileged don't believe they play by the same rules as everyone else and even once things are starting to fall into place you know that things are never really going to change, that things will be brushed under the rug and continue status quo. White privilege and power play a huge part in this game of whose who and if you fit the profile you have the choice to straddle the line that is good and evil. 

Well received in Germany I think Wurger is a name to keep an eye on. I hope more of his work gets translated if its as good as this one was.
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First of all, thank you NetGalley for giving me the opportuntity to discover Takis Würger !

I loved this story. It had everything I look for in a book : a brotherhood, a love story and an intriguing secret.

The main character is not at all like the MCs I'm use to and this adds up to the story : the way he feels and the way he deals with situations got me intrigued! 

I only have two regrets : not meeting Alex enough through the pages and the end, not being as powerful as I expected it to be.

But overall, I got hooked and couldn't put the book down so I'm giving it a 4.5 stars rating !
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A novel approach in looking at the (underbelly of) secret societies and/or the club sytem at Cambridge system. In this case an outsider is brought in by his aunt to find out what really goes on. Quick-paced and enjoyable to read.
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I believe organizations such as The Pitt Club certainly do exist, so I'm always interested in books about secret societies. In this story, the secret club has existed at Cambridge for a long time. The protagonist becomes a member who is secretly investigating a crime from the past. The Pitt Club is for the richest of the richest men/boys. Of course, horrible behavior with zero consequence is one privileged enjoyed by members. They can basically do anything they want. Doors open to everything and everyone for the protagonist. He meets a girl, and his investigation begins to make sense. The story is fast paced and thought provoking. It's the oldest story in the back, the class system of rich and poor. The characters are complex and engaging. It's a good read if you enjoy secret societies. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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I really enjoyed The Club.  It was a great read.  Action packed and interesting tidbits on the Pitt Club too.
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Written in German and translated into English "The Club", Mr Wurger's first book has already been well received in Germany.  It is a very well executed novel dealing with good and evil and the tendency of certain people in powerful positions to take advantage of others due to their ability to do so without paying the piper.  Hans Stichler grew up in the Bavarian section of Germany with beautiful woods and forests as his playgrounds.  During his youth his aunt Alex comes to visit his family from her native England where she is an Art history instructor at Cambridge.  While visiting, Alex extends an invitation to Hans to come to England where she will ensure an acceptance into Cambridge. Her condition for this is his promise to investigate for a great wrongdoing  a dining club known as The Pitt filled with social climbers and children of the aristocracy.  The Pitt has existed for centuries with a long legacy of unquestioned tradition and privilege.
     When Hans' parents both pass away within a short time of each other he calls his aunt Alex to take advantage of her offer moving to England.  He is introduced to the Pitt club and his previously acquired Boxing ability proves useful when a forthcoming boxing match against Oxford is taken into account.
     As a member of the Pitt club Hans is drawn into a world of machismo and unchecked debauchery while he commences his search for the crime that his aunt Alex wants him to look into.  He also meets a young lady who is a fellow student and a person that comes from a wealthy background.  Charlotte opens the possibility of a new life for Hans as she becomes more and more the girl he could marry.
     Mr. Wurger's novel is constructed around narrations of the principal characters involved in the telling of the story.  Each contributes to both the events taking place as well as the thought processes and actions of the group under discussion.  It is a relatively short book and with the reaction of awaiting the end is a "short" but well deserving all nighter.   Hopefully we will hear more from the author in the near future.
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The Club is a powerful novel about justice and retribution. The English class system and the tribal nature of men's societies protect their own trespasses. To balance the scales, Alex, a Cambridge don, sends her nephew Hans undercover into the Pitt Club.
The Pitt Club is a both a boxing club and secret society at Cambridge University . Any comparisons to the Bullingdon Club are entirely deliberate. It has its' own codes of conduct, dripping with privilege. Members of the club help themselves to whatever they want.
Hans must become one of them, losing himself in the process. He doesn't even know what he is investigating to begin with. The club appears to open doors to a life of success and cameraderie. Most of the young men are entitled and brutish, and neither realise or care about the way they treat others, especially women.
It is when he falls in love with beautiful and damaged Charlotte that he starts finding out what his mission is. Hans is drip fed information from his mysterious and distant Aunt that leads him to a disturbing finale. He must decide which side he is on. A gripping and timely read.
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A tense raw read set in Cambridge University a group Of elite young men their secret society se ret clubs.The outsider who enters the effect this has on this group drew me into this well written novel page turner of a novel. #netgalley #TheClub #groveatlantic
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Takis Würger, a journalist for the prestigious "Spiegel" magazine, caused quite a stir when his debut novel was published in Germany, and while this might not be the most challenging text ever written, it is certainly smart and absorbing (so hey, literary snobs, just read something else, okay?). In the book, Hans, an orphan from Lower-Saxony with a humble background, receives a scholarship from his only living relative to attend Cambridge, but there's a catch: He has to solve a crime once committed at the school, and in order to do that, he needs to be accepted into the prestigious Pitt Club (which actually does exist). Hans enrolls and joins the boxing team, trying to get acquainted with the right people, and there's also a mysterious student named Charlotte who is trying to help him...

Würger himself studied at Cambridge and was a heavyweight boxer for the Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club. He wrote about his personal experiences with the club system (he was an actual member of the Pitt Club, the Hawk Club, the Adonians and another secret Drinking Society) and what it says about British society in an article entitled "Why I fled Cambridge" ( As he explained in an interview, many people at Cambridge weren't all too happy about his book - although it is clearly marketed as fiction -, and reading the text, it is pretty obvious why this is the case.

The author shows the importance of wealth and connections at the school, and the toxic consequences of a hierarchy structured like that, and while his social criticism isn't all too subtle, it is nevertheless an intriguing read which also blends in a love and a family story. 

The story is told in a linear fashion (except for some flashbacks), but from multiple perspectives: Hans, his aunt, Charlotte, other students from the boxing team and the Pitt Club as well as a particular parent. Some characterizations are a little crude (one student seems like a caricature), but all in all, it works out pretty well. In stride with the boxing theme, the sentences are very crisp and generally rather short, a style that is juxtaposed with some fairy tale-like aspects (e.g., good luck finding a young German man named Hans - this name is still alive in fairy tales though).

Currently, "The Club" is being turned into a movie, and the stage production is performed in Hanover, a city that also plays a role in the book. For all German speakers out there, here's an interesting interview Denis Scheck did with Takis Würger - if you don't speak German, you can watch it for the over-the-top interview cinematography! :-)

Also: Shout out to translator Charlotte Collins (winner of the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize 2017) who did a fantastic job!
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Woah, this was a really fun read and not quite what I was expecting. I love anything that has to do with secret societies and elite clubs, so that what drew me to the book. What surprised me, however, was the great writing and fast-paced storytelling, the content almost didn't matter. The characters were engrossing, and the culture as explained so thoroughly I was able to understand something that I certainly know nothing about!
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I really wanted to like The Club. I have zero interest in boxing, maybe that is what threw me off? Either way, I did not give The Club a full read. I do think it was well written and that it was made for somebody other than me. If it sounds interesting to you, give it a read and you will probably enjoy it!
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