TITLE: BOVEN IS HET STIL / THE TWIN
AUTHOR: GERBRAND BAKKER
Details: Dutch language original
It has been ages since I last read a Dutch book. But since "The Twin" won the International Dublin Impac Literary Award this year, I had to read it. After all, how often does a Dutch author win this price? And thankfully my father was generous enough to have a copy send to me. I refuse to read Dutch books in an English translation, just as I used to refuse to read English language books in a Dutch translation.
I'm not quite sure what I expected of this book. In the past I've come to prefer the style of storytelling as employed by English language authors for reasons I understand but can't quite put into words, so I had a few reservations before I started this book. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book.
In many ways it is a very simple story, with only a few characters and very little action. But it is also a story with a great depth of feeling, a story that tells itself almost more between the lines than through its words.
It is the story of Helmer van Wonderen. Helmer used to be one of a set of twins. His brother Henk was supposed to follow in their father's footsteps and take over the farm, while Helmer could pursue his literary interests. However, all that changed when Henk died in an accident before they turned twenty, and for almost four decades now, Helmer has been living and working with his father. During all these years Helmer has almost completely withdrawn from the people around him and from life.
But things change. Helmer's father gets old and unwell, and Helmer moves him upstairs and changes the downstairs of their house to his own requirements. Then a local man emigrates to Denmark and a letter arrives which brings the past into the present and forces Helmer to take a look at his life, at how he ended up where he is and at what he really wants from life. Helmer has to come out of hiding and face the world head on.
The lack of shared emotions, the restraint conversations and reluctance to open up are all very Dutch where we after all say: "just act normal, that's crazy enough."
This book contains a very quiet beauty, and a lot of hidden depth. It was a delight to read.