Friday, March 6, 2020

Boekenweek 2020: Rebels and Dissenters

Boekenweek 2020

Rebels and Dissenters

Welcome to Boekenweek 2020! I am pleased to launch the North American leg of this year's Boekenweek celebrations. It is the second year that World Editions has brought the Dutch literary festival to North America and there is plenty to celebrate. Not only are there seven fantastic books in translation on this year's tour, but there are also six bloggers reviewing those books. Make sure to stop by my fellow writer's blogs to see their take on this year's Boekenweek novels.

Boekenweek runs from March 7th through to March 15th, 2020. This year's theme is Rebels and Dissenters. It is apt that Esther Gerritsen's book is therefore one of those books. And I was lucky enough to get a copy of the book to review for this year's Blog Tour.


Roxy by Esther Gerritsen, translation by Michele Hutchison, ©2020, World Editions

Originally published in 2014, Roxy has sold over 20,000 copies in the Netherlands. It released to the US market on March 4th and I am sure Esther Gerritsen is waiting to see the response to her gripping novel. With a protagonist whom you don't know what to expect from, Roxy is the perfect image for this year's theme of Rebels and Dissenters.

The novel opens with middle-of-the-night visitors for our main protagonist, 27-year-old Roxy. Her 3-year-old daughter lies sleeping upstairs. Middle of the night visitors never bode well, usually only mean one thing, especially when they are police officers. And Roxy is correct when she assumes it means her husband has died. While you might assume the novel to come is about grief and the process of it, Gerritsen throws in a twist that throws Roxy off and has her coming unhinged—her husband died in a car accident in a compromising position with a woman. While Roxy immediately tries to downplay the circumstances, it is no good. Her husband and his intern were found naked in a car together. Cue the unravelling.

Death is enough for any one person to deal with, but throw in infidelity and you've got a whole lot more to process. And as Roxy begins to process that, we begin to see a bigger picture of who she is, the choices she has made in the past, and how her underlying instabilities might be enough to see her come completely undone.

It calls for a road trip with unlikely companions; her husband's assistant, the babysitter, and her daughter. Roxy is running from grief, from life, from responsibilities—but she just can't shake them. You never can. As her reckless behaviour escalates, it looks like this rebel might implode. Or maybe she already has and is just coming back around again? It is a bumpy ride for sure and it's hard to know where it will end for Roxy or her companions. But there is definitely far more than just a grief journey going on in this novel. Roxy bucks the 'poor widow' motif and it is hard to understand where she will go from there. When you are barely holding onto reality on a good day, a major catastrophe is enough to make things untenable everywhere. But is she that much different from her road trip companions? Is her reaction that much different from anyone else's?

Give Roxy a chance and you just might be surprised by how drawn in, and repulsed, you are by Gerritsen's heroine. Michele Hutchison does an excellent job of translating Gerritsen's unbalanced characters into ones you can understand and relate to, and also be shocked by. It is a bumpy ride, so hold on.


The Darkness that Divides Us

The Darkness that Divides Us by Renate Dorrestein, translation by Hester Velmans, ©2019, World Editions

Another rebel in the making is 6-year-old Lucy. She lives in the draughty old rectory on the village green, and her mother is different than other mothers. Her mum dresses in black, reads tarot cards to the local women, and is sought after by the local men. They live with the Luducos; two bachelors of indeterminate age and vocation, who no one seems to know much about. None of them tend to leave the house and an air of mystery surrounds them all. But feisty Lucy is a magnet for the other children in the housing development. Her magnetism changes in tone as the novel progresses though.

We are given a glimpse into the future fate of Lucy in the opening pages. She is brutally bullied by the local kids and they can't seem to get enough of tormenting her. It wasn't always that way though. Lucy has an indomitable spirit that draws people in. Like her mother, she enchants people, but she too is different. And while she starts as a leader amongst the children, a fateful event quickly divides them all. The other children still can't help but be attracted to her, but the attention shifts to a darker tone, one that none of them seems capable of breaking.

Renate Dorrestein presents the story in three parts; Lucy's life at age 6, age 12, and age 18. The first section is narrated by the other children in the village. They take in Lucy and her strange family, and then the tragic events that unfold. Their loyalty sways when Lucy becomes numb, but she is always a focus of their attentions. Only it changes from adoration to dismay, and then that attention becomes downright vicious.

By the second section—Lucy at age 12—she herself is the narrator. Where the other children try to coax by their favourite playmate by any means possible, Lucy herself is unravelling. She feels like she deserves all the anger and sorrow that comes her way. As the reader, you slip inside her head to see her personal torments and can't help but feel for the outcast child. Events whisk them away, but the shame remains and Lucy can't shake it, no matter where she lives. By the time we reach the last section though, Lucy is 18 and is ready to face the demons she has battled with for so long. Demons that have kept her apart from everyone.

I for one was rapt throughout the journey. Hester Velmans does an excellent job in translation, as evidence by my devouring the book in short work. You want to know what makes a rebel? Sometimes you have to look behind the scenes and Dorrestein holds by the curtain for us to see. A great read in my opinion.


While these are my takes on a couple of excellent books in translation, there are other stops on the blog tour. Be sure to visit them all this week to see their take on these books and the others in the second World Editions blog tour celebrating Boekenweek. Pick up a copy of one or all of these books to join in the literary celebrations all week.

Veel leesplezier! Happy reading!


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