Category: Netherlands

Gerard Reve: De avonden [The Evenings]


The latest addition to my website is Gerard Reve‘s De avonden [The Evenings]. This book was voted top in a poll by De Amsterdamse Leesgroep (The Amsterdam Reading Group) of the best Dutch literature of the 20th century. It was written while Reve was in prison for having helped a prisoner escape, while he was serving in the Dutch East Indies (later Indonesia). The original manuscript was destroyed by the guards but, fortunately, he had made a copy and he took this with him, when he escaped and fled to Belgium. The story is relatively straightforward. It recounts ten days in the life of Fritz van Egters, starting on 22 December, 1946 and ending shortly after the first hour of New Year’s Day. Fritz is a twenty-three year old Dutch man, who lives with his parents and works in a boring office job. He seems to have no romantic attachments; indeed, he shows virtually no interest in such matters and does very little during the ten days of the novel, except go to a few low-key parties, meet a few friends, get drunk once and talk to his parents. However, he does have something of a dark side, having recounted his childhood love of torturing animals, telling stories which are often macabre or sick and sometimes downright nasty and being quite cruel to various friends, who seem to be used to his remarks. Nothing major happens and the story begin and ends with him in bed, with his life continuing the same as always. I found it an interesting story, as Reve writes well and the dark side of Fritz is interesting, as you wonder where it might lead, but I am not sure that it qualifies as the best Dutch novel of the twentieth century. While it has been translated into various languages, it has not been translated into English. Perhaps, like the guards who destroyed the original manuscript, US and UK publishers found the book nihilist and immoral.

Arnon Grunberg: Onze oom [Our Uncle]


The latest addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Onze oom [Our Uncle]. This is a long and quite complicated novel, set in an unnamed Latin American country where there is a war on terror going on. Major Anthony, known only by his first name and with an English name because of his father’s anglophilia, leads a small mission to arrest a couple suspected of aiding the terrorists. An inexperienced corporal inadvertently kills them, leaving a young daughter, Lina. Anthony notes on the record that she is dead and essentially kidnaps her as a present for his wife, as the couple have not been able to have children. The wife, however, is not grateful. After Major Anthony leads a convoy into the North, where military outposts seem to be surrounded and in need of help and does not return for a long time, Lina sets out to find her parents and ends up in the same Northern area, working in a gold mine and then having a child by a man known only as The Leader, who is in charge of the resistance to the military. It is an excellent novel, one of his best though, as yet, only available in French and German.

Arnon Grunberg: Tirza


The latest addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Tirza, finally published in English this year. This is Grunberg’s masterpiece and a first-class piece of writing it is. It tells the story of Jörgen Hofmeester, a publisher’s editor, married and the father of two daughters, Ibi and Tirza. Jörgen drifts through life, as he drifted into his job (and out of it), his marriage (and out of it) and into fatherhood. His wife had walked out around three years ago and he has been left to bring up the two daughters though the eldest had soon left for university. The novel starts with the unexpected appearance of his wife, who has nowhere else to go, though the reunion is far from happy. The following day is Tirza’s birthday party and this brings its own problems, not least because Tirza introduces her boyfriend, a Moroccan called Choukri, who reminds Jörgen of Mohamed Atta. The pair are off to Africa – they choose Namibia as it seems to be the cheapest place to get to – and set off the next day. When Jörgen does not hear from them, he sets off to Namibia to find them. The skill of this book is the portrait of Jörgen, a man not fully into touch with the world and happy to drift through it, despite being a concerned and, generally, good father to his daughters. Grunberg describes his actions in great detail to really show us the man and his foibles, leaving with us with a funny but touching book, superbly written.

Arnon Grunberg: Fantoompijn (Phantom Pain)


The latest addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Fantoompijn (Phantom Pain). This is a very funny book about a writer, Robert G Mehlman, who is arrogant, irresponsible, unfaithful to his wife, dishonest, lazy, greedy and utterly self-centred but a moderately successful writer. We follow both his past life as well as getting some detailed accounts of his later life, including his (mis-)use of credit cards, taking a newly met woman to Atlantic City in a limousine when he is utterly broke and then gambling $5000 away, leaving his poor wife stranded in Vienna as he maxes out her credit card, and then having a brilliantly idea for a book, for which he exploits an elderly woman in Brooklyn. Grunberg mocks and mocks again every foible of Mehlman, leaving us to wonder if Mehlman is based on a real writer. Whether real or fictitious, Mehlman is a wonderful creation and the book is a very enjoyable read.

Arnon Grunberg: Figuranten (Silent Extras)


The latest addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Figuranten (Silent Extras). Grunberg tells the story of three young people – two Dutch men and and an Argentinian woman – who want to make it in the world but struggle to do so. They have ambitions to become film or theatre stars but only get auditions for second- or third-rate productions and when one of the young men, known as Broccoli, tries to stage a version of Macbeth with the Argentinian woman, it is not successful. They also have money problems. Ewald, the narrator, lives with his parents, while Broccoli’s parents, who live in Switzerland, have been subsidising him but decide enough is enough and head off for Mexico, leaving him high and dry. Even the other characters struggle to get by. It is a bitter-sweet tale and enjoyable enough, though lacking, in my view, that something special.

Arnon Grunberg: Blauwe maandagen (Blue Mondays)


The most recent addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Arnon Grunberg: Blauwe maandagen (Blue Mondays). This was Grunberg’s first novel, written for a bet and selling 70,000 copies in the Netherlands. Frankly, it did not really appeal to me. It is an autobiographical novel, telling of his life while at high school and then, once he had been kicked out of high school, afterwards. His story is told in a matter-of-fact life way. For example, his relationship with his girlfriend, Rosie, and then, when she dumps him, with various prostitutes is told with all the passion and excitement of a dead haddock. He is something of a rebel at high school but his rebellion consists more of playing truant, often to spend time with Rosie, rather than any interesting, overt act of rebellion. After high school, it is a succession of boring jobs, culminating in working as a male escort (where the book ends) and visiting prostitutes. If you like books told in a straightforward manner about high school dropouts, this may be for you, otherwise you would be advised to pass.

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