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Booker International 2020: The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Discomfort

Book 7 and this one has been read and reviewed by Book Worm and RachelO how does this compare with the first half of the longlist…


Details from the Booker Website: Jas lives with her devout farming family in the rural Netherlands. One winter’s day, her older brother joins an ice skating trip. Resentful at being left alone, she makes a perverse plea to God; he never returns. As grief overwhelms the farm, Jas succumbs to a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies, watching her family disintegrate into a darkness that threatens to derail them all.
A bestselling sensation in the Netherlands by a prize-winning young poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s debut novel lays everything bare. It is a world of language unlike any other, which Michele Hutchison’s striking translation captures in all its wild, violent beauty.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (b. 1991) grew up in a Reformed farming family in North Brabant before moving to Utrecht. One of the greatest new voices in Dutch literature, their first poetry collection, Calfskin, was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize for best poetry debut in 2015, with the newspaper de Volkskrant naming them literary talent of the year. In 2018, Atlas Contact published their first novel, The Discomfort of Evening, which won the prestigious ANV Debut Prize and was a national bestseller. Alongside their writing career, Rijneveld works on a dairy farm.

Translator

Michele Hutchison was born in the UK and has lived in Amsterdam since 2004. After a stint as an editor, she became a literary translator from Dutch. Her translations include the bestselling An American Princess by Annejet van der Zijl, Mona in Three Acts by Griet op de Beeck and Seaweed by Miek Zwamborn – and most recently, The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Riijneveld. She is also co-author of The Happiest Kids in the World

Book Worm’s Thought: If this book was not on the Booker Longlist I would have abandoned it long ago somewhere between the first incident with the green soap and the hamster and long before the insemination machine. The blurb for this book should basically be a list of trigger warnings just when you think things can’t get any worse they do.

For a study of the effects of grief on a family I feel let down. Instead of examining the normal grieving process this book chose to distort everything to the worst possible way of handling things. For me this felt like each action was judged for the shock value rather than telling the reader anything useful about grief. While the parents at least appear to be handling grief in a way the reader can relate to there is something seriously wrong with how the children react to it.

By the time I reached the end of the book I was desperate for it to be over and didn’t care how the author chose to do it. I can appreciate the symmetry worked into the beginning and the end but I could have happily lived without anything in between.

Writing: 1/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot: 2/ 4
Overall enjoyment: 0/2
Total 9/20

RachelO’s Thoughts: This is such a hard book to review – I appreciated and disliked it in equal measure. 10-year-old Jas, the narrator, has a unique voice which grabbed me from the start. Growing up on a farm in the Netherlands, family life is guided by the conservative ‘blackstocking’ Reformist church. When her oldest brother dies, the family’s grief is swallowed – and all-pervasive.

Rijneveld is a poet, which is very clear through their writing – their observations are acute and striking. The atmosphere, indeed the family’s whole world, is heavy with sadness and you long for someone to give these kids a hug. The ‘earthiness’ of farm life, however, is taken to another level, and incestuous acts and the children’s obsession with death make this a very uncomfortable read.

I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I would read more of Rijneveld’s work.

Writing quality: 4.5/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 0.5/2
Total: 13/20

Standings:
Tyll 19/20
The Eighth Life 18.5
Memory Police 15.5
Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17
Mac and his Problem 12.5
The Discomfort of Evening 11
Serotonin 8.375

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