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Love, ambition, and vengeance during WWII, staged by a master-storyteller

The Turntable

Tom Lanoye

‘The Turntable’ brings together three closely connected lives in Flanders at the time of the Second World War. Alex, a gifted theatre director and actor, is appointed director-general of Antwerp’s municipal theatres during the German occupation. His wife, Jewish star actress Lea Liebermann, with whom he has met with great success, languishes and roams about in a city where round-ups for deportation cost the lives of thousands. Rik Desmedt, also a director and brother to Alex, throws himself into collaboration and helps to set up the Flemish SS. ‘The Turntable’ is suffused with theatre. It is Alex Desmedt who speaks to the reader from beyond the grave and takes us with him through a dubious apology for what he did during the war. At the same time, he paints an in-depth portrait of the various mechanisms that operate upon a city and its residents in wartime.

‘The Turntable’ is a five-star Lanoye: shocking, rich, theatrical, occasionally funny, horrific. A detailed history book interwoven with imagination.
De Tijd *****

Although the characters are inspired by the lives of real people and some important passages are drawn from Flemish history, ‘The Turntable’ is and remains above all a novel. In Alex Desmedt, Lanoye has created an unreliable narrator and master manipulator, continually in search of recognition from an audience. As a director he introduces to Antwerp the technology of the rotating stage. What goes on in the theatre is a reflection of the political mechanisms of the time.

With this magnum opus, Lanoye places question marks beside important issues concerning the collaborative past of Flanders. He spotlights what Flemish collaborators did during the Second World War, but also the ‘culture of memory’ that followed. A narrative in which the Flemish collaborator is imagined as a victim rather than a perpetrator has been dominant in Flanders for decades. Other important themes are addressed here too, such as the complicity of Antwerp City Council during round-ups of Jews, or the many deaths and injuries caused by German V-weapons after the liberation of Belgium. What appears in the foreground and in the background? Who plays the main and supporting roles? Can a person who claims to be stagnating be guilty of the position assigned to them by ‘fate’? These are questions that make ‘The Turntable’ a timeless novel in which the author mercilessly exposes the inner workings of a European war.

It is tempting to describe Lanoye’s style in filmic or musical terms (that melodious rhythm!), but what he does is above all pure artistry.
Het Parool
Theatre, drama and stage-setting have always characterized Lanoye’s work, and it is thanks to its theatricality that ‘The Turntable’ never becomes short of breath.
De Standaard *****