The portrait by Willem Jan Otten

the-portrait_300dpi-280x430

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
Images
Images
Images

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 ?

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Gerbrand Bakker interview

The Detour mmp 9780099563679

I ‘m pleased to bring you an interview with the Independent foreign fiction prize longlistee Gerbrand Bakker .His longlisted book The detour (ten white geese in the Us) Has Just come out in paperback in the UK ,So when I was offered chance to ask him a few questions I jumped at the chance
1.Why do you goes such isolated locations for your books?
I like to put people away from distractions, big cities, hustle and bustle. Just to see what happens to them. And in a very strange way I’m – even though I live in Amsterdam – not really able to write about a city and all the things that happen in them. Just like I’m not really able to write about skating, and skating (speed skating) is what I’ve done for 15 years, including competition. It always looks strange, reads strange.
2.Have you a connection with Wales, and is that why you choose it for The Detour?
Because I’ve been there quite a number of times. In fact, I have the strange habit of wanting to climb Snowdon once a year. The land there feels old, ancient, mysterious. I always wanted to use it for ‘something’ and somewhere in 2009 Emily Dickinson, a woman (and a feeling) and North-Wales came together in my head.
3.Did you pick Emily Dickson first as the poet to be the one Emile taught or after as she fitted the character?
No, the book started with this poem, that’s why I choose it as the motto. So the woman (Emilie/Agnes) had to fit in with Dickinson, and not the other way round. And then, when I was writing, I discovered (and the woman discovers) that there are some similarities between her and Dickinson. So there is a sort of love-hate relationship between them.
4.How closely did you work with the translator on this book?
Quite close, closer than on any other book. Because there were some real problems in the translation. For instance: how do you translate a book that in Dutch deals with the translation of an American poem into Dutch? I thought the book couldn’t be translated, but David Colmer is very calm and he said: “Don’t worry, I’m the translator, let me do my job.”
5.What impact did winning the IMPAC prize for The Twin have for you?
I bought a house in The Eifel, Germany. I’m renovating it at the moment and there is going to be a wonderful ‘writing-room’ in it, which can only be accessed via a stairway on the outside of the house. There is going to be a log burner in it, as the whole house is heated with log burners. That is what happened in the end with the IMPAC money. I did (not yet) buy a carthorse with it. It also gave me the opportunity to NOT write for a while. I’ve not been inclined to write for a couple of years now, and the money partly enables me to do this. The IMPAC did not make me think: wow, I’m a real, big writer now, also because I myself have been in jury’s and I know how things work. There is always a bit of luck and bargaining involved…

Bakker, Gerbrand c. Eimer Wieldraaijer (1)
6.I Asked Cees Nooteboom about Dutch literature last year he described it as ‘inward looking’. What is your view?
I presume that he meant this not as a compliment, and that he is not an inward-looking writer? I don’t think one can make such a general statement. There are enough writers who to me don’t write inward-looking, like Anon Grunberg or Peter Buwalda. But it is maybe true that Dutch writers take it on them to write about for instance world politics, maybe because in the end we are a very small country. And not many Dutch writers have the stature of Orhan Pamuk. I cannot think of one Dutch writer who ever became ‘big’ in the UK or the United States. There is also a reverence for especially English and American writers here. If you look at the bestselling books at the end of a year, there’s hardly a Dutch book to be found in the top 10. I don’t think that’s the case in the US or the UK. And nobody can convince me that American or English books are intrinsically better than Dutch books.
7.What you currently working on?
Nothing. I’m working in my house and garden, and sometimes I write articles in magazines. I travel a lot for my work these days. To Germany, but also to Argentina, the US and South-Africa.
8.What is your favourite Dutch book not written by you?
Het Bureau (The Office), written by J.J. Voskuil. A book that consists of seven parts, 5000 pages in total, about a man who works in an office for 35 years and is struggling with that. Only recently the first book was translated into German, it has not been translated into English. That would be a mammoth-task for any translator…

Many thanks Gerbrand and good luck with the IFFP 2013

Here are my reviews of his two novels

The twin

The detour

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 twin (dutch title it is quiet) by Gerbrand Bakker

The detour by Gerbrand Bakker

Dutch fiction

Translator – David Colmer

Source – Library

This was Bakker’s début novel ,he has written piece for magazines and is a fully qualified gardener ,writes for the green Amsterdam ,the twin was he debut novel ,in his native Netherlands he has also a collection of stories from his blog and newspaper stories ,also a second novel june .This his debut is set in Platteland of north Netherlands an area of mainly farming and sparsely populated we join Helmer a farmer in his fifties with his father upstairs knocking on death’s door ,Helmer starts to wonder about his life ,his departed twin brother Henk and his future whilst still running the families small farm we find what made him stay and his brother leave the farm and how he settle in the community and made friend with visitors to the farm yet has always felt tied to the family farm whilst his brother had the chance to escape their family life .

Mother was an outrageously ugly woman .Someone who who hadn’t known her would probably consider the photo on the mantlepiece laughable : bony , pop-eyed farmer’s wife with thrice yearly hair does her best to assume a dignified pose .I don’t laugh at the photo she’s my mother .

Helmer describes his mother .

Bakker has written a wonderful tale of families lost dreams ,but also hope Helmer is a man who has lost a life but may have a chance to live .The scenery is wonderfully described you get the feeling of isolation and strangeness of platteland ,a bit like Norfolk or southern Scotland a place with isolated farming communities that have people who are almost caught out of time at times like Helmer is he seems a character from an earlier ages someone out of sync with the modern world but wants to live in it more than he had done .Bakker use;s certain items well the Opel Kaddet is like the means of escape from home at time and the Bosman windmill is like a giant winder dragging him back to the farm ,you get to see this world so well .The book has just won the Impac award in Dublin ,it also been shortlisted for the best translated book award from three percent .the book has been translated by David Colmer .

WINSTONS SCORE-

A dutch cow ,the setting is farming the are in the story a lot and like a brown cow story is very pretty .

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