2020, 282 p. Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchinson
Preamble: I read this because it was shortlisted for the Booker International. I am appalled that it won. Surely there is enough pain and unhappiness in the world.
Ten year old Jas lives on a Dutch dairy farm run by her strict Dutch Reformed church parents. I don’t know if she was disturbed before her family faced a tragedy, but she certainly is afterwards. Not just her: the whole family is cycling into a vortex of wordless despair. She is frightened that her father is going to leave; her mother has collapsed in on herself in grief; her brother is sadistic; her sister is in a similar place to Jas herself.
I spent most of this book flinching from its unrelieved misery and cruelty and self-abuse. Her parents’ Christianity is harsh and emotionally sterile, and it is juxtaposed against a world obsessed with bodily functions. The children are largely left to find their own way through the tragedy, and the depth of mourning over the loss seems unbalanced against the indifference with which the children are treated. In my mind the farm seemed cold, dismal and muddy, with no beauty in anything or anyone.
I found this a really disturbing book, which means that it will probably stay with me. I don’t know if I really want it to. It’s a debut novel: does this mean that it has succeeded? I suppose it does – and it has certainly attracted critical acclaim- but I felt like having a hot shower and seeking out a book to make me laugh, to remove the misery that clung to me as I finished it.
Rating: I have no idea. Would I recommend it? Only for the strong-stomached.
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
Read because: it was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker International Prize.