The detour by Gerbrand Bakker
Translator – David Colmer
Source review copy
This is Gerbrand Bakker the dutch novelist second book to be published in english after his first the twin won the prestigious Impac prize the richest prize in literature .Bakker is a gardener by trade and in the winter a skating instructor he says these work well with his writing career .he also writes piece for Dutch newspapers
The detour is similar to the twin as it like the twin is set in a rural isolated area unlike the twin this one is set in rural Wales .The main character is a dutchwonmen called Emilie she has escaped a scandal in her native Holland and end up in Wales she has rented a remote farm and settles in ,as she does this we start to see the life around her ,also what brought her there .THe book is told in a spooky sketchy way not many names mentioned and strange incidents keep happening from the geese in a near by farm disappearing ,a young man and his dog appearing and Emilie getting bitten by a badger .
“Did the animal get into your house ? Do you live here in town?”
“I live up the road .I was outside ,lying on a big rock ”
“Did the badger bite through your shoe ? ”
“Do you have time for all this talk ? i d rather you look at my foot ”
Emilie and the doctor talk after she is bite by the badger .
Later in the book a second story strand appears as Emilie’s husband appears and comes to find his wife with the help of a policeman .The scandal back home involved a student who she had an affair with ,we also discover Emilie passion that is Emily Dickinson the American poet ,does this allude to why Emilie has travelled away from her husband is this escape to die ? or to experience nature ? both themes in Dickinson’s poems .Also William of just william allude to Bakker style in this book maybe owning a little bit too Dickinson as her prose are sparse and have strange spacing and pacing at times maybe this is reflected in the book .I m not sure to me Bakker reminds me at times of the english writer Magnus Mills there is a gentle humor at play here and also slightly surreal situations like Emilie getting bitten by the badger ,the geese that disappear one by one remind me at times of how Mills builds his stories with little things happening bit by bit leading to a shocking ending ,The way this book unfolds stylistically reminds me the restraint of beasts the tempo building up bit by bit as husband draws nearer .Also there is a connection in the men themselves both have jobs not connected to writing Mills is now a bus driver and Bakker a gardener .But I feel Bakker hasn’t quite got the ending here something lacks in the last third of the book which is a shame as he has written such a good story to that point that a flatish finish maybe wasn’t what was required .But that said I enjoyed it, he catches through Emilie’s view of day-to-day life in rural wales and that boredom that creeps in when you go away and don’t have a lot to do with references to daytime tv and Emilie mind wanders .He has also caught the north Wales scenery well those isolate villages and farms ,I remember passing through as a kid as we spent family holidays with my grandparents who lived in north Wales .I loved the twin and this book has a similar feel if maybe not the same impact that book made on me but that would be hard as it was one of the best books I have read in recent years ,again Colmer’s translation is pitch perfect .If you loved the twin you’ll like this book.
Who is your favourite dutch writer ?