Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What should have been. Helmer and Henk. The twins. But Henk has been dead for thirty years, Helmer is alone and their father is bedridden and dying upstairs. Helmer is alive, he’s in control of everything – the farm, the house, his father – everything except his life. Then Riet, Henk’s ex-fianceé, asks if her son might stay awhile.
The prose, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer, is precise and sparse. It’s apt, reflecting a novel of frustrations and could-have-beens. The setting, in the rural Netherlands countryside is depicted with similar accuracy and cool observation. The weight of the past and the unrealised future lie over this book like low cloud.
But wait!
Firstly, it is not depressing, more thoughtful and considered. Reminded me frequently of the paintings by Dutch masters – how much can be evoked by an apparently simply rendered scene. Secondly, an atmosphere of place permeates the mood of the book.
As well as the location, the passage of time influences the ambience. Seasons, routines, life and death, cycles and ticking clocks all play a role, but whether tragic or comic is up to interpretation.
There is dry humour, achingly lovely description and a deft touch any writer could learn from, not to mention the use of symbolism and metaphor. The ending is a surprise and challenges the reader’s conviction that nothing can change.

I looked up the Dutch title and it seems to say 'Above is Stillness'. I find this a far better title – ambiguous, reflective and not what it first appears.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Graham Swift's Waterland, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, JM Coetzee and John Gardner.

Avoid if: introspection and reflection ain’t your thing.

Ideal accompaniments: Gin Rickey, pea soup and Gerald Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality

Genre: Literary fiction

No comments:

Post a Comment