5 Ways to Finish it



‘Each of them will keep their own experiences hidden, walled up, carried around with them. What they do reveal about them in conversation are merely superficial reflections and meaningless minutiae; they are incapable of sharing with each other what lies buried in the deeper layers of their subconscious — what they would like, with uneasy words, to blab about,must necessarily sound false, acquire a contrary meaning, be misunderstood; pronounced by an ambiguous heart, these words serve no other purpose than to deceive them and to promote ridicule.’

From: Life and Death in the Oast-House, Stijn Streuvels

(Translated by Zoe Perot)


‘He breathed in, filling his chest with air, and climbed into bed. ‘It has been seen,’ he mumbled, ‘it has not gone unnoticed.’ He stretched out and fell into a deep sleep.’

From: The Evenings, Gerard Reve

(Translated by Sam Garrett)


‘I do not pretend to have understood him. I knew him, just as I knew Telaga Hideung, as a reflecting surface – I never fathomed the depths. Is it too late? Am I forever to be a stranger to the land of my birth, to the soil from which I am loath to be uprooted? Time will tell.’

From: The Black Lake, Hella Haasse

(Translated by Ina Rilke)


‘You see? That dying woman who was poor but a beautiful girl, and at her death bed the doctor and the priest who should have been her husband and son…that would have been a proper book, but your book won’t be a proper book, there’ll be nothing in it about life AS IT REALLY IS.’

From: Chapel Road, Louis Paul Boon

(Translated by Adrienne Dixon)


‘The nephew walked with me to the little country station. ‘It was a fine poem. Bravo.’ ‘I write three of those a day,’ he said. ‘That’s quick!’ ‘It’s my technique. I take all the clues from a crossword puzzle and then jumble them together.’ He said nothing more. So I said nothing, either. Together we sang ‘Tout va très bien, ma-da-me la marquise,’ the foxtrot by Ray Ventura and his Collegians. We heard the saxophone and the beat of the drum. We saw a gull that limped. We’ll see. We’ll see. Anyhow.’

From: The Sorrow of Belgium, Hugo Claus

(Translated by Arnold J. Pomerans)




First published in The Low Countries, 2016