Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom



Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch non fiction

Original title -Brieven aan Posiedon

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source review copy

The hollow light is still on the fields
Where the winter has warmed
And the snows have drained away

And the hunter’s cry is still on the air
As the bullet flies home
And the heart that’s pierced with it

Still is racing
Still is racing all alone

The silver shoals of the light in the deep
Brush the glittering skin
Where the great, dark body writhes

And the trembling jaw
The unfathoming sounds of leviathan, bound
As his heart, though weakening

I choose Leviathon bound by Shearwater as my lyric for the book as it comes from an album that combines sea, birds  and myth in the songs source 

Cees Nooteboom is a  name often mentioned on this blog , I have interviewed him a number of years ago  and also the translator of this book  Laura watkinson .Well I have also  reviewed Cees books twice before in fact, so this is the third thread of his writing I’ll be reviewing as i have previously reviewed the novel In the dutch mountains  and the short story collection The foxes come at night  .So now I move onto a travel book of his , that is more than a travel book it is really a musing on life , art , history and the world we live in .

You are a god , and I am a man .That is however one looks at it , the state of affairs .But perhaps I might be permitted to ask you something  I have always wanted to know. What is a human being to the gods ? Do you despise us for being mortal ? or is the opposite the case ? Are you jealous because we are allowed to die ? Because your fate is , of course , immortality , even though we have no idea where you are now .

From Poseidon II , of course we never know the answer but we have to ask !

Letters to Poseidon is one of  those books that is very hard to pigeonhole as it is a collection of letters that Cees has written every year to a muse that of Poseidon (Greek god of the sea ) to protect his Menorcian home every time he leaves these are 23 slices of musings from the great Dutch writer  that are divided into a sections .A lot of the musings start from a conversation that he has with Poseidon that is about how the god has been viewed and represented in history .Also musings on items , events even nature .This is one of those books that is hard to describe as a whole as it is a mosaic of pieces rather like one of those photo mosaics with Poseidon being the big picture but lots little pictures on every subject under the sun making this picture up  .

At around midnight , here in a Germanic winter on the edge of the alps , I see him again , Orion , the blind hunter , the moon man of the mountains , Poseidon’s son , the most beautiful man there ever was , lured into the bed by the insatiable Eos , the drawn , who was tormented by unflagging lust as a punishment when Aphrodite caught her in bed with Ares , the god or war .I know Orion from winter nights in Amsterdam , when I see his shape above one of the canals .

from a piece called Orion , I know Orion as well he is one of the few constellations I can remember in the nights sky so have also seen him many a night as well .

Now I’ve been vague about the book and I don’t know why it isn’t a vague book , list a dam hard one to pass over its sheer brilliance fully .The nearest to it would be Sebalds work it has same feel of a mind at work musings become digression become little stories or thoughts even a mix of pictures like Sebald had .Leopardi would another writer that this book has reminded me of is Zibaldone by  Leopardi Nooteboom is exploring ideas the idea of sea and the nature of Poseidon , rather the same way Leopardi constantly muses of the way language evolved , Nooteboom exams how even now we view the god of the sea .Now this book yet again shows me Stu why I always highlight Cees Nooteboom as a potential Nobel winner as he has such vast skill , I really need to try his poetry next I think or hope his first novel which he mentioned in the interview as one to read published .I’m just sorry it took me a few months to review this book as it is one I feel most readers of this blog will get something from .

Have you read Cees Nooteboom ?

Gliding flight by Anne – Gine Goemans



Gliding flight by Anne-Gine Goemans

Dutch fiction

Original title – Glijvlucht

Translator – Nancy Forest Filler

Source – review copy

“Growin’ Up”

I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and come out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, “Sit down,” I stood up
Ooh… growin’ up
I choose Bruce Springsteen growing up of his Debut album , like Gieles has to in this book .

Well its always exciting when a new publisher of books in translation appears , what make World editions special is they aren’t new , just new to the uk as it is a new arm of the Dutch publisher De Geus .They had published this book a few years ago in Holland it won a prize for Youth literature , and is her second book to come out in dutch and her first to be translated to English .

I am like you training my geese for a project .I cannot run into details .It is secret and surprise for my mother .Like your rescue flying  , my project is also an action of rescue .As I already wrote , my geese do not excel in listening .They behave stupid sometimes .

Gieles writing to his hero Christian Moullec about trying to train his geese .

Now I have to admit I pick this first of the books from the launch of World editions as it appeal least to me and I am always one that believes in a challenge and it was also the longest of the launch books so .From the cover above you get a number of clues as to the nature of this book .The book follows a fourteen year old boy Gieles , now he lives next to a runway , in what is called a spotters camp .There is just him and his father , his fathers job is to keep the runway clear of Geese .But they also keep two geese themselves at home , which is Gieles dream to make them fly like one of the two heroes he has Christian Moullec the renowned french ornithologist , how has written books about using gliders to teach geese to fly (a similar idea and story inspired the film fly away home a few years ago ) .Add to this his mother is chasing saving the world in Africa , a best friend called Super Waling , whom is a historian and journalist , also like Gieles has his own problems .Also there is Gieles other hero Captain Scully , another link to geese he was the pilot that managed to land a plane in the Hudson river a number of years ago , after the plane got damaged after a goose flew into the engine .

Late the next morning Gieles was awakened by an inspiration .He was going to make  sacrifices .Tony’s mother might die of cancer , and his own mother might die of Africa , so it was time he sacrificed something , too .He looked around his room .The gosling was drinking water from a dish .He loved that little thing .She was way more than he could sacrifice , not on your life

Gieles reminds me of Adrian mole at times in the way he speaks .

Twisted is what I would call this book , many threads but also mainly linking ideas in a way .For me the main idea is loss and travel  Gieles has lost his mother but still yearns to be free of where he is ! Super Waling is an interesting character a fat chap that has lived around the town , but has seen history pass him by and strangely enough been in a plane crash .Gieles desire to fly the geese is another strong thread , the birds themselves seem to maybe symbolize the boy themselves , his two birds can’t fly , but could if shown how by Gieles , but also Gieles can’t fly and can’t help them with out the help of a hero ! I imagine for a teenage reader this is great stuff , even I admit it I got drawn in partly as it wasn’t to a dutch friend point out mid way through the book it was actually a YA novel in some ways .I do question that but I had same questioning with Mark Haddon’s book the curious incident in the night-time , in some ways that is the book I was reminded of Gieles is maybe seeing the world as a teen would but also has unusual loves and heroes for a boy his age rather like Christopher in the curious incident .. ., also Adrian mole that twisted teenage take on the world we all have has been caught so well here .We all had drives and dreams like Gieles but did we go as far as he does !

Have you read this book or any good YA in translation ?


The portrait by Willem Jan Otten


The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

Dutch Fiction 

Original title – Specht en zoon

Translator – David Colmer 

Source – review copy 


I think images are worth repeating
Images repeated from a painting
Images taken from a painting
From a photo worth re-seeing
I love images worth repeating, project them upon the ceiling
Multiply them with silk screening
See them with a different feeling

Images by Lou Reed and John Cale from their album Songs for Drella about Andy Warhol

When I was asked to review this award-winning Dutch book from scribe ,I was pleased as Scribe the Australian publisher has not long moved into the uk market and has over last few years found some gems in translation ,like David Vogel ,whose books have been on my radar for a while .So The portrait or in its Dutch title Specht and son ,is the fourth novel by Willem Jan Otten ,he is also a well-known poet , playwright and essayist in his native Holland ,he has won a number of awards including two for this book ,the most prestigious being the Libris literature prize a Dutch language prize whose previous winners include Harry Mulisch ,Hugo Claus and JJ Voskull .

I admit to remembering virtually nothing of the moment I was finally brought .It was a nondescript man ,smallish ,in a dark-blue army-disposials coat and paint splashed shoes .He had wide ,avid eyes but I didn’t really see them wile the transaction was taking place .

The canvas is brought and taking tom wait at the studio .

So the portrait ,is an unusual book as the narrator of this book is a canvas , we see the story unfold from its point of view  .The book starts at the end as a man walks in the snow  towards a fire   ,then we go back in time and this canvas is waiting for what it calls the creator to use it  .The creator is an up and coming young painter known for his realistic paintings of people .He has been hired by Specht who is a rich and powerful man who could help the creator become better known  he has asked the creator  to make a photo of his late son into a painting like his other painting and breath life into it , to save  his  own life  .So as the creator starts to cover the canvas we start to find out who is being painted on him ,is it Specht’s son or something more sinster  what is their relationship ? What happened to this young boy ? Who is Specht why was he in such a rush for the painter to create this painting for him ?

Specht had sat down again .

I actually only have one question , he said

His voice ,which had been very quiet the whole time had become virtually inaudible .

Do you also work from death ?

Specht ask the creator does he paint from death and the canvas gets its chance to come to life .

Now this is one of those books that just goes at a pace when you start reading it ,at points I had to keep saying to myself this is just a canvas as the narrator as it’s  jumps of the page ,we see its waiting as the creator ,choose other canvases before it  until the big job he has been destined to be used for comes in .The book has a slightly Moral feel to it almost as thou the story of Specht’s  son is a wider story of lost children everywhere .I read in a Dutch interview I translated online that Otten has convert to Catholicism with his wife in the 90’s and this book was picked as an example of literature reflecting Christian  values and morals  the ClO 15 list ,which also features a book ny his wife Yvone van der Meer  the list shows the literary merit Christian literature can have .Know I can see you shaking your head and I am not a big fan of overtly Christian books ,I can say this isn’t you can read into it that it is but also just read it as a story of a painting being made and the young bo is in the painting a journey through a life of a canvas  and it’s subject .Also another readable and faultless translation by David Colmer  .Have you a favourite book about artist and paintings ?

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

in the dutch mountains

In the Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch fiction

Translator –  Adriene Dixon

Original title In Nederland

Source review Copy

Well I’ve cover his short stories before now and Also have an Interview with Cees Noooteboom  here on the blog ,he is the best known living Dutch writer and someone frequently mention for a Nobel Literature prize .This book is a reissue of his   1984 Novel and this one book is probably the  most perfect piece of writing I have ever read ,but also shows the Plaudits given to Nooteboom are due .This is one of two books Maclehose have reissued the other being Rituals which I hope to read soon .I would also suggest reading the Intro by Alberto Manguel .

I am a foreigner ,but I still remember it all ,and I don’t intend to keep quiet about it .My name is Alfonso Tiburon de Mnedoza .I am inspector of roads in the province of Zaragoza ,part of the ancient kingdom of Aragon ,in spain .In my spare time I write book .As a student I spent some years in Delft on a scholarship to study road and bridge building ,and I might as well say at once that the nortern Netherlands have always inspired me with fear ,a Fear that demands a capital letter .

He was touch by his time in Holland .

In the Dutch mountain is The story of a writer retelling a classic fairy tale with a new setting .The writer is a Spaniard Alfonso Tiburon de Mendoza ,he works in the Zaragoza region of spain as a road inspector ,he is a failed man ,he has been writing ,but has never sold many copies of his book but every week he goes to a schoolroom and sits behind a kids desks and writes ,the story we join him on  his   retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson story the Snow Queen ,he has alter the name of the two main child characters too Kai and Luicia they are circus kids  the setting is now in Holland  the mountains of Southern Holland  , where Alfonso  spent some time years ago ,as we follow the story we also follow a bit of Alfonso life as we see the kids revisit  the fairy tale of  the snow queen as through the eyes of Alfonso .

Camino ,carretera, way ,street,road .It has always intrigued me that in Dutch the word weg ,way also means absent .In Spanish el camino is not only the road but also Journey .

I love how words can have dual means elsewhere myself .

This is what reading books in translation is about for me discovery and different approaches , I ve read books before about writers ,and them taking part in the writing process .But none have touched the mark as well as this one did  he really caught the whole process .Alfonso is the perfect embodiment of the failed writer, he has it all in his head but seems to have failed over time  in conveying it in what he writes ,through him we see how he is using a classic tale to try to spark his own writing but also use his own life to add to the fairy tale .A short book 150 pages it seems much longer (a cliché I know but its hard to say anything else its a real gem ) .I have books I know will stick with me for the rest of my life after I have read them for example rings of Saturn by W G  Sebald or Wonder by Hugo Claus , Now I ll be adding this book to that list .Nooteboom also tackles what a fairy tale is a Alfonso takes apart a classic tale and rebuilds it in his own version we get an insight into what makes a great fairy tale and that is the parts of it not the story more what the story in its parts tell you .

Have you read this book ?

What was the last book you read that you knew was going to stick with you ?

The dinner by Herman Koch

The dinner Herman Koch

Dutch Literature

Translator Sam Garrett

Herman Koch is  fairly well known in his homeland of the Holland ,as he is a tv producer and also an actor in the dutch show Jiskefet a humourous  sort of satire show  that ran for a number of years on dutch television .He has also lived in both russia and Finland earlier  in his time .The dinner was his sixth novel ,he has also published short stories and a collection of newspaper columns .

If I had to give a definition of happiness,it would be this :happiness needs nothing but itself ,it doesn’t have to be validated .”all happy families are alike ,each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way ” opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anne Karenina

Paul just as him and his wife Claire arrive at the restaurant

Now when the Dinner arrived I was a bit worried ,when I see it mention in comparison to the slap a book which I hated ,anyway safe to say after reading it yes the bare bone is maybe  along the line of the slap , something happens a turning point like in the slap ,but here it is two boys not one and this turning point is a lot more serious than the slap was .The book was based loosely on an event that happened in 2005 in Barcelona here is the report of the court case from el pais  

Everyone ,of course ,had noticed the Lohmans arrival .There was even what you might described as a stifled tumult around the lectern :no less than three girls in black pinafores were fussing over Serge and Babette ,the manager was hovering around the lectern too

Paul watching his successful brother arrive for their dinner


SO we meet two sets of obviously worried parents ,the book is set out like the dinner they are about to have so we get five main parts Apretif ,appetizer ,main course ,desert and digestif .the two couples are brothers and sister in-laws .Paul and Serge the brothers although brothers as the meal unfolds you see they have different values and reasons for their sons doing this act the meal starts with a lot of simple chatter about films and the times but always a sense of the real reason they are there  .Part  of  me feel although this book is about one small incident that is very violent and maybe like similar crimes in the uk can be used to highlight a change in moral standards a sort of the youth have gone wild as we often see headlines in papers like the daily mail .This book is maybe that discussion using the two sets of parents as the different values that can be found in modern holland ,one being more liberal and the other saying that kids should be drawn more into line and this is the reason this act happened Paul is a teacher and his brother is an up and coming politician ,whose career hangs in the balance because of this act his son and nephew did .This is all seen through the less successful brother eyes the over the top meal and his brothers airs and graces .I was reminded at times of Frasier and wondered if this had happen to him how it would be handled ,because under it all is the black satire that Koch made his name with in  the past a look at modern morals and manners ,also the changing face of youth .I found this a challenging book that makes the reader think about what you would do and as at some point in the near future I hopefully be a father as we try for  a child I maybe for the first time wondered what I would do if my child did this and like the couples the answer to that question is very hard .

Have you read this book ?

Did you like the slap ?

Amsterdam stories by Nescio

Amsterdam stories by Nescio

Dutch fiction

Translated by Damon Searls (he also select the stories in the collection)

Nescio was the pen name of J H F Gronloh ,he was a succesful Dutch businessman a director of the Holland – Bombay trading company ,he wrote in his free time and used the pseudonym  Nescio is a Latin phrase meaning I don’t know he published very little,as he want to keep his writing secret . But is so highly regarded in Holland that his collective works were named in the Nrc’s best dutch novels top ten at number 8 and was the only collection that was in top ten all the others were novels .I first heard of him maybe twenty years ago in a dutch bar when I was out visiting the Dutch city Nimwegen which was near where I lived in Germany for a time .I had completely forgotten about him til I read Trevor’s post at Mooske and Gripe  I knew it had finally hit us in English .So  I picked a copy up for Iris on books Dutch Lit month as it seemed a great choice and is my first venture into pre ww2 dutch fiction .

So the collection is made up of 9 pieces of Necio’s writings , his three best regard pieces are in the collection .The freeloader a story of a Koekebakker the narrator ,the mean of this name in dutch is silly bungler and by the title you meet the other character in the story Japi he is a man who really want to do very little in his life to say this story is only 31 pages long you get a lot for your money it is rather like stones in the landslide ,where a life is compacted into a small space but without feeling like it has .Japi would be a slacker these days ,but like many of the original Gen x’s they turn into successful businessmen .After reading The freeloader I feel this is maybe the most autobiographical of the piece in the book as thou he was looking back on a point in time he lost at some point .The other two well-known stories in the collection  are Young titans is similar to The freeloader except a larger group of men they feel like same idea of a story but worked in two different way .The other really well-known story is Little poet a piece Nescio was inspired to write by a little girl he knew ,he then gave her the story to read but he said she didn’t get it ,this was the longest story in the book and could almost be counted as a Novella .The other piece later in the book have a feel of the war coming and being there .But I did get really struck by some lines in Insula dei (island of god in latin ) .That mention in it  Nimwegen a dutch city where I spent many a great weekend out (this is the German spelling as I lived in germany near it for 18 months I always use this spelling ).

Chateau to the gardens .Its like the view from westerbouwing but everything is bigger ,and instead of Nijmegen with its little hills you have start of the alps ,far away and hazy .And the Rhone in the landscape ,and lots of trees ,lots of pointed poplars ,fields in many different shades of grey ,and little house ,grand but as the same time flowery and charming ,now and then a train in the distance .reminiscent of Montferland sometime ,of the view from the hotel there ,the Cleve towers could be mountains opposite .

Loved this poetic passage  but also mentions where I lived in germany Kleve .

So Nescio was he worth the 20 year wait yes he was ,he fell into that band of writers I love from Maugham here in the uk of human bondage Philip is rather like some of the characters in these stories  ,Hamsun hunger the starving or struggling man a character that also appears in Paul Leppins Blaugast  and Walser (also published by NYRB ).The tales of wayward manhood ,growing up ,drink and bohemian style sometimes failing sometimes going the other way and becoming a success ,He is a master of what may be called  neo realism  taking what the likes of Balzac and the French in the late 19th century did to the next level .He also  evokes an Amsterdam that is the city of the foot and wandering round it ,those dark nooks that may know be something else but then were cafes dens of chat and thoughts and dreams .Brel wrote a song about Amsterdam you feel this is the city he was describing expanded out  the rough character are a back drop in these stories but this is a city that has more to it than we know .

Have you read this book ?

Brother Mendel’s perfect horse by Frank Westerman

Brother Mendel’s perfect horse by Frank Westerman

Dutch non fiction

Translator – Sam Garrett

Frank Westerman is Dutch writer and former Journalist ,he grew up in Assen in a dutch reform church family ,he then went to university eventually ending up as a journalist ,where in the early nineties he end up in former Yugoslavia ,this inspired his first book since then he has written six books most of which have won prizes and been on shortlist in native Holland .He is now a full time writer .

So to this book Brother Mendel’s perfect horse or its original ditch title translated is Animal ,animal above but English title links Mendel’s work on peas the early study of genetics that also influenced the Horse’s breeding  .The book is a wonderful insight into the beautiful Lipizzaner horses  ,I loved the way he’d first meet the horse on the edge of the town he lived was a horse a Lipizzaner but it turns out it he finds the horse whole blood line .For those of you not in the know Lippizzanner’s are large perfect white horse that due to there bloodstock are able to be trained to perform wonderful trick and precision riding,but also have in breed genetic problems  .I was aware of the horse and knew roughly where they came from but had always wondered why it was called the Spanish riding school but was in Austria .I found  this book answered any other questions I had ,but the horse are just a small part of the story here as Frank has managed to weave a tapestry of fact ,his own life and history .These beautiful horse have been the prize for a number of the most feared and hated men in twentieth century  history  with Stalin and Hitler both ordered people to get the horses at one time or another .Soon after Anschluss in world war two Hitler sent people to secure the Spanish riding school which is the home of the Lipizzaner ,Hitlers own idea closely matched the breeding of the original Lipizzaner ,he’d order breeding of perfect farm animal to match his perfect Aryans .The stories of this period leads Frank to  meet a number of people or family members that were involved with the horse and made sure they were kept safe ,this also leads to other strands later on in the book as the horses  move round the central area of europe Austria ,Yugoslavia ,Romania to name three .The later two are also touched on later in the book as the break up of Yugoslavia means the a group of the horses get caught up in the warring sides and become a pawn in the end of the war .So next time I see them on a news report or a travel show I ll remember how much they have been involved in the history of modern europe and are more than just pretty horses .

A door slid open and ,Illuminated in the resulting darkness was a white horse ,standing hesitantly as though posing for a picture .The animal stepped from the frame with a graceless gait ,led by a girl in riding boots with hair down to her buttocks .At twenty ,thirty paces from my hiding place they stopped .Face to face ,even lip to lip they stood there .like two youngsters kissing .

Frank describing his first meeting with a Lipizzaner .


This is a book that falls in with books like Hare with Amber eyes ,rings of Saturn and wildwood .The very best of narrative prose .He use the horse connection with men as a motif for the history of the twentieth century .I was also reminded of the booker shortlisted by Simon Mawer the glass room where the book had  a house as a motif  that had been closely touched with recent history .This is a book for that difficult to buy book person that you may have brought hare or snow goose for in other years  ,also lover of great prose ,the horsey person ,the history lover .In fact if this isn’t near top of the pile this Christmas I ll be shocked because it deserves to be .I read on the Dutch wiki page this is currently in production to be a 90 min film about the horses .So this is my second choice for the dutch lit month and very pleased to review a non fiction books as not enough non fiction gets translated .The book comes out next month in the uk  .

What narrative prose do you like ?



Summer sonata by Chaja Polak

Summer sonata by Chaja Polak

Dutch fiction

Translator – Susan Massotty

Chaja Polak is a dutch writer ,hidden by her family in world war two ,hiding with a famous french dutch artist .She then spent time in Israel after growing up ,then she travel settling in Rome  where she started writing in the late 80’s and then back in Amsterdam .She has published twelve novels in dutch .Now this was a chance find published in Dutch 1997 and translated in 1999 ,I happen to be in a second-hand shop in Sheffield earlier this year and saw her name ,I m great one for looking at books with names of writers I’m not familiar with . Then the cover really caught my eye as well and it was only two-pound for the hardback so I thought why not as I need a book or two for dutch lit month .

So summer sonata what is it about well at the heart of the story is elven year old Erwin a young man struggling at home ,with the impending changes in his body .He loved playing his cello hence the title of the book ,he has vowed never to grow up to stay eleven for ever .He enjoys his time at his cello teachers house ,the Bars the husband  teaches him and is also a composer as well  and the  wife gives him cups of tea and there is a niece That is the bones of the story it is a coming of age tale .But is it also something darker it is a bit up in the air as we see it through Erwin .

Every Wednesday afternoon ,after school ,he would take the tram to his cello lesson

It was only seven stops to the old villa where mr bar lived .His fourth floor flat had a music room with a grand piano stacks of exercise books .Scant daylight and a set of frosted glass door that opened onto the living room .where Mrs Bar ,her hair grey corkscrews would pour him a cup of tea when hid lesson had gone well .

We meet the Bars

Like many a good coming of age tales it is about struggle Erwin with his feeling and his desires as he transfers from child to teen  but also maybe about  how we view the world at that age .I suppose the first book that springs to mind is catcher in the rye and Erwin isn’t as wild as Holden he is a quiet character well drawn out in the 90 pages of this short novella by Chaja ,in fact if any character I would pick the narrator from stand by me you get similar feel he has things in his past and Erwin does but he also sees himself growing and maybe doesn’t want too .I was reminded about a line something in the film stand by me  about being ten but eleven the same and it being the best time of your life or the worst at the time and this is what we see in Erwin’s story .I can’t understand why this book isn’t better known I look for some mentions and turn up a blank it seems to have sunk without a trace ,so I’m pleased I found it as it is a little gem it is one of those books that peirene may have published if they’d been about at the time .I found Chaja write crisp Erwin seemed very real in my eyes ,the Bar family had a real feel of a music teacher family I was reminded of some one that taught me when young the creative household that seem so different to my own . .

Have you read this book ?

What small gems do you love ?

The detour by Gerbrand Bakker

The detour by Gerbrand Bakker

Dutch fiction

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 ?

The foxes come at night by Cees Nooteboom

Source – review copy

Translator – Ina Rilke

This is Cees latest collection to be translated in to English ,Cees Nooteboom is a dutch writer ,he has written numerous books fiction and non fiction .He has won numerous awards and I was lucky enough to interview him yesterday on the blog .

Now this collection is a theme collection of short stories ,the themes are ,memories ,death looking back at life’s lost moments ,lost loves .As you can tell this is Cees looking back on life ,when I first heard of this collection and read the synopsis of the book the book that sprung to mind was  Kazuo Ishiguro nocturnes came to mind even more so when the first story was called Gondolas ,but this is so much better the stories all stand alone and don’t feel as thou they been worked at  to fit a theme as a couple of the nocturnes stories did.These stories are touching and thoughtful works ,a man who thinks of a past love Paula then the story is flipped as she sense he remembering her this is drifting story of dreams memories and love ,we drift through the Mediterranean through ex pats ,these  stories are meditations on lives lived and lovers lost ,Cees is a craftsman at his writing and Ina Rilke the translator who managed to keep the wonderful poetic feel to these stories ,I don’t want give away too much as I think you need to read these to appreciate them .Memories and old age which is what this book is really about is something that I love having worked at the beginning of my vocation with older people and done some work on memories involving a play worked from the collected memories of the people I looked after ,this book gave me that feel it wasn’t Cees life more a collection of   people stories and experiences thrown together and blended by Cees to these small gems and flashes into people’s lives  .Lizzie Siddal said she felt uncomfortable with the looking back feel of the book ,I didn’t but working with people and experiencing death a number of times I was touched by them .

Back in his empty apartment in Amsterdam he waited for news from her ,letters written in an unaesthetic ,almost naive american hand ,margins splattered with zodiac and scillian signs to ward off the evil eye ,and wondered what on earth he had written in reply .He no longer knew which of them had stopped writing ,   but he had a clear memory of the excitement he had felt ,a good twenty years on ,at receiving a letter written in the old familiar scrawl

from the opening story Gondolas .

Another thing unbook related that this collection reminded me of was the work of the late Johnny cash his American collection of albums which rung with his life and people he’d known like this collection ,these two artists in later years both looking back ,but still making wonderful art ,like Cash’s work which I love, Nooteboom seems to have got better with age here is a writer that knows his craft and how to use it without feeling like he is going oh yes I m Cees Nooteboom ,like you get with some of his contemporaries in english do from time to time .The collection is 150 pages long and I read it on the train to London which wa perfect as on a rainy day I was transported to Spain , Italy and other places .So I d say this book is a perfect wet Sunday afternoon read ,it is one that will stick with you for a long time after you put the book down .

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