This novel is a biting critique not only of postwar German society, but of hypocrisy in general (religious, romantic, and otherwise). Boll captures magnificently the feeling of being down and out and rootless. It is set specifically in post World War II Germany and describes well what surely the feelings of many were. But the sense of loss, alienation, lack of love, religious doubt set forth in the book go much deeper than that.
"I am a clown," says Hans. "I collect moments."2 Ostensibly intended by Boll as a simple definition of character, the statement offers considerable insight into Boll's philosophical perspective. Hans Schnier is the "Clown" of the novel's title and invariably the spokesperson for Boll as the author. The Clown is a hugely life-like figure; his pain bleeds through the paper, his tears smear the words. He is an artist, destroyed by loss and betrayal, an artist who has reached the lowest point of his existence and now despairs in the knowledge of his own pathetic tragedy.
The book is told first person by its hero, a clown, Hans Schneir. ...
of Hans Schneir, a down-on-his-luck, melancholy, incisive clown could represent any human life after surviving and living the day-to-day economic and emotional traumas hatched by war and the idiocy of policy that brings it about. His thought center on his own spiritual and emotional poverty, on the loss of Marie, his ambivalence towards religion, and the attempted change among Germans following their defeat. He phones for help or consolation as he huddles in his terra cotta apartment, swelling with nausea, a bruised knee, a headache, and a broken heart. He tilts back his cognac and sucks on a drooping cigarette, brooding over his loss, and trying to distinguish between fact and fiction, reality and his own frantic imagination. Boell crafts an image of a man willing to do anything for love, and is suspicious and afraid of the world around him after his personal world collapses. In lines such as "Think of the clown who weeps in the bath, and whose coffee drips onto his slippers,"3 Boell reveals his mastery of capturing the human spirit through poignant narration and philosophy. Besides, there are many comical depictions of the eccentricities of Schnier and his circle of acquaintances.
This book reflects sadness and pain from the first line until the last. The most strong portrayal of what occurs when society takes form over substance, and how choosing the latter to live your life will not make you immune to having your heart broken and being misunderstood. Actually the most probable outcome is that you will end up being beaten since most humans hate to have a mirror place in from of them if it can show them how they really are.
Hans Schneir is encased in a cocoon of soulful hardness, an all encompassing iciness of mistrust, cynicism, destroyed ideals and melancholy.