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An ironic homage to world literature

Trains and Rooms

Annelies Verbeke

In ‘Trains and Rooms’ Annelies Verbeke interweaves more than four thousand years’ worth of literature from around the world. Inspired by better and lesser known classics from before 1900, the fifteen pieces in this collection form a kaleidoscope full of interrelated moments. Verbeke freely experiments with literary forms, which has resulted in a mix of short stories, theatre texts and poetry. She uses certain characters again and again and plays with intertextuality. The stories were inspired by western highlights, including ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel Cervantes and Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, as well as the likes of ‘The Pillowbook’ by the Japanese Sei Shōnagon and ‘The Exaltation of Inanna’, which was written around 2,260 BC by the Sumerian Enheduanna.

Verbeke only needs a few lines to give her characters a pulse and to make them truly memorable.
Het Parool

The author herself makes a cameo appearance in her collection. In the opening story ‘Desertion’, she meets some of the greats of world literature: Thomas Mann, Goethe and a few of their famous characters, including Young Werther. While having playful conversations about their craft, she asks deeper questions about (female) authorship. Meanwhile, in other stories, she does not shy away from contemporary issues such as the refugee crisis, decolonisation, robots and incels. She manages to get to the heart of love, grief and humiliation with both humour and irony, but also with immense compassion for man and animal alike. ‘Trains and Rooms’ is like a hall of mirrors in which new doors keep opening up into other eras and narratives. This is yet another highlight in Verbeke’s career, and one that reinforces her reputation as the ‘Queen of the Flemish short story’.

At times poignant, at times shocking, but just as often witty enough to make you burst out laughing.
Cutting Edge
Literary swagger, craftsmanship and precision ****
NRC Handelsblad
Annelies Verbeke on 'Trains and Rooms'

The overarching theme of this collection is the care for our fellow humans – the underlying motivations and the achievability of our efforts to help and save others. Alongside other themes, motifs and the big question ‘What is reality and who defines it?’, this has been a common thread throughout my oeuvre. During these uncertain times marked by a global pandemic, unbridled capitalism and hostility towards art, ‘Trains and Rooms’ is my personal homage to literature