A Book Full of Longing

Tommy Wieringa and Joe Speedboat Inspector Morse’s first name was Endeavour, but that was kept a secret until the end of the last instalment. Just as embarrassing, especially to its bearer, but also to the narrator of Tommy Wieringa’s novel Joe Speedboat (2005), is Joe Speedboat’s real name: Ratzinger (and this before the present Pope…

It’s only a five-minute walk from poverty to wealth

An Extract from Frans Pointl’s The Rich Have Awkward Sizes A critic once wrote that Frans Pointl’s short stories are populated with people like himself: ‘they hover between the social and the antisocial’. The Amsterdam Soup Kitchen, grimy coffee tables, his ‘dingy, dead-end street’, the comforting companionship of ‘ex-stray cats’, Pointl’s Jewish mother and a…

The Tale Won’t Be Ended

The Poetry of J.H. Leopold One of the earliest publications by the poet Jan Hendrik Leopold (1865-1925), the Scherzo sequence of 1894, contains a poem that at first sight appears a model of simplicity – by Leopold’s standards at least. Leopold has the reputation of being a difficult, not to say obscure poet; which is why…

Six Extracts 

Penance every day My grandmother: ‘Oh, Anneke, could you bring some fish too … Three or so herrings for frying.’ My mother: ‘But mother, it’s not Friday, is it?’ My grandmother: ‘It’s an ember day.’ Me: ‘Mummy, what’s an ember day?.’ My mother: ‘It’s when the Church says you have to do penance.’ Me: ‘And…

The Face and Voice of Flanders

Six Family Novels by Erik Vlaminck Maurice (de) Vlaminck was a Fauviste painter who at one time caused a sensation in pre-1914 Paris. August Vlaminck was one of the first Belgian photographers, having begun his career in the nineteenth century as court painter to King Leopold II. And now we have the writer Erik Vlaminck…

The Village of Lieve Joris

There are certain much-quoted pieces of advice that were spoken or penned by great writers and intended to set the authors of the next generation on the right path. Maxim Gorki, for example, advised the young Isaac Babel to ‘get out and about more’ and Stéphane Mallarmé recommended that his disciple Paul Valéry seek solitude…

An Extract from ‘The Sound of Snow’

My sensuality is not of this age There’s snow in the air. The woman hunches over the steering wheel and peers upward. No sky to be seen. Heavy clouds hang low over the road, turned a sordid yellow by the motorway lighting. ‘Is a star too much to ask for on a night like this?’…

Clarity of Head and Heart

The Enlightened Narrative Art of Arthur Japin In the course of a mere decade, Arthur Japin (1956-) has amassed a literary oeuvre of which many would be envious. He made his late literary debut in 1996 with The Magonian Tales (Magonische verhalen), which amazed connoisseurs with its fine-meshed compositions. When, one year later, he published…

Not a Cheerful Science

The Unrelenting World-Picture of Willem Frederik Hermans I must have been fourteen or fifteen when I informed my mother that I had now read all of juvenile literature. The school library I had exhausted; the bookshelves at home I had already utterly devoured. I had even read my father’s books, admittedly numerous but with only…

Anything I set my hand to falls to bits

An Extract from J.M.H. Berckmans’ The Investigation Begins Fits of depression, manic spells, a failed marriage, 12 different jobs and 13 disasters, one attempt at suicide. The utter hopelessness of an existence on the fringes of society, with a few shreds of comfort from beer, tobacco, and a bit of warm food. Despair, paranoia, sadism,…