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Frank, uncomfortably funny, unexpectedly tender

The Misfortunates

Dimitri Verhulst

In a forgotten village somewhere in Flanders, a boy lives with his father and three uncles in his grandmother’s house. They’re an ill-mannered and coarse bunch, unpredictable heavy drinkers. Wallowing at the bottom of the social ladder, their lives are a total mess.

The family seems happy to accept their isolated, bleak lot – although the father does feel that something’s missing in his life. He decides to take time out to deal with his drinking, but when he gets back three months later, his old habits get the better of his good intentions. His son is the only one who manages to distance himself from this life, but not without a degree of emotional pain and melancholy.

This novel continually surprises and intrigues
The Guardian

In this semiautobiographical novel Dimitri Verhulst draws the reader into a world without shame or manners, a world of alienation and social deprivation, and he succeeds astonishingly in maintaining a delicate equilibrium. While he succumbs to comic exaggeration in writing about inept people, he also maintains a subtle emotional counterbalance between alternating dependence and sympathy.

Outrageousness yields to eloquent recognition in this darkly intelligent novel
Irish Times
Verhulst's distinctive voice is resonant, his savage humour is refreshing in its honesty.
‘Good, warm and wise as Roddy Doyle’s 'The Commitments'’
Philip Gwyn Jones, publisher-at-large Scribe Publications, formerly Portobello Books

‘It was Tasja Dorkofikis who first acquired Dimitri Verhulst's work for Portobello Books. That first book in English was ‘Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill’, which was both elegaic and moving. Tasja left Portobello to live in Switzerland and I took over Dimitri's publishing.

What I really like about Verhulst is his ability to write in an extremely wide range of registers and styles.

‘The Misfortunates’ is ribald, unblinking and unapologetically raw to reflect its (and Dimitri's) origins in beer-soaked backwoods Belgium. It's as good, as warm and wise, as Roddy Doyle's ‘The Commitments’ (and it has the better filmed version of the two). It was named one of the best books of 2012 by The Irish Times.

And then again Verhulst's ‘Christ's Entry to Brussels’ is vitriolic, dark and searching, grappling with Belgium's recent history of moral taint. It has been a privilege to publish him, and a thrill to read him.’

Watch the trailer for the film 'The Misfortunates'