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Short stories by Flanders’ greatest author

Misery Loves Company. A Life In Stories

Hugo Claus

Hugo Claus is the internationally acclaimed author of dozens of plays, novels and collections of poetry. But over the course of 50 years he also wrote many short stories. A half-century filled with grotesque nightmares and charming scenes of love and loss, with mysterious and comical characters populating Claus’ characteristic bitter-sweet world.

In his stories Claus explores themes he elaborates in later novels, plays and poems – as if they are finger exercises for future work. Nonetheless, the reader will recognize the author’s mastery in these short pieces: in evocative prose, crystal clear and seemingly written with natural ease, his pitiful, at times wry and grotesque, but above all claustrophobic universe is present in all its intensity. The irony with which he masks autobiographical elements, the flashes of genius as he sketches the inner life of his characters in a single sentence, the exploration of themes such as the powerlessness of man who gets to fight his fate for the brief time fate tolerates this nervous scratching on the soles of its feet: all this epitomises Claus’ stories.

Incredible to see how much beauty someone can produce in half a century
De Telegraaf

In 'De mensen hiernaast’ (The People Next Door), for example, Claus presents a family drama from multiple perspectives. An elderly woman surrounded by two vultures (her sons, representing modern times) and a miser (her husband) is determined to speed up her decline. To hoodwink her doctor, she has called on the services of a quack. In blood-curdling dialogue, in which callousness reigns supreme, Claus describes the loneliness that holds the family in its grip, without ever losing empathy for his characters.

Many of Claus’ stories have been collected in ‘Verhalen’ (Stories, 1999) and ‘Een andere keer. De andere verhalen’ (Some Other Time. The Other Stories, 2000). ‘Het verdriet staat niet alleen’ (Misery Loves Company) is a new, inspired selection of Claus’ short stories and novellas by author and Claus expert Mark Schaevers, to mark the tenth anniversary of the master’s death.

It is precisely this inscrutable and mischievous yet also detached quality that makes Claus so slippery and elusive, so frustrating and fascinating in equal measure.
De Morgen