Elvis Peeters describes how history operates upon the lives of three generations. Emiel is a child during the Second World War. His daughter Hannelore a ‘no future’ punk moving to London. Grandson Matteo a law student seduced by the extreme right. They all take a stand against their own era and ultimately have to pay the price.
Reading ‘Mauk’ means digging deep to reach the bottom, but having got there you find gold
Mauk looks back on his life with few warm feelings. He remembers above all a tyrannical father who was not in command of his own demons and therefore unleashed them on his wife and child. ‘Mauk’ shows how a violent past marks a person for life. It's a novel about pain, loss of innocence, guilt, loneliness and emotional disfigurement, but also about imagination as a survival strategy. A story both haunting and poignant.
An exciting whodunnit and a wonderful piece of biofiction
This engrossing historical novel on Charlotte of Belgium opens up remarkable worlds: that of the royal house and the nobility, that of a powerfully evocative Mexico, and that of the human spirit, which after loneliness and longing flirts with madness. Dieltiens shows us a fascinating woman, who flounders and obstinately tries to keep her head above water. In this fictional biography, the daughter of King Leopold I has her honour restored, in sparkling prose.
One of the best Flemish crime novels for a long time
Keller Brik is a classic detective in every sense: pig-headed, cynical and distrustful, but cursed with an immense sense of responsibility and the conviction that the bad guys must never win. In 'Brussels Blues' we follow him investigating a family tragedy, searching a vanished transmigrant and collaborating with the biggest mob in the Brussels underworld. In the dark underbelly of the city lies the key to all mysteries.
Anne-Laure Van Neer continues to produce writing of a consistently high quality.
In assisted living complex Den Groenen Hof, a select company meets regularly in the utmost secrecy: the Thanatos Club. The elderly members have just one wish: to determine how they end their lives and die with dignity. When the avaricious director of the complex announces new building plans, the future of the poison garden is suddenly thrown into doubt.
When Chris Yperman published her debut ‘A Very Tiny Ship’, the book quickly acquired a cult status. In the novella, protagonist and narrator Christina describes and documents her turbulent love life and her interaction with a group of friends and lovers.
‘Icons’ offers us a glimpse inside closed mental institutions in Flanders in the 1970s. Patients are inhumanely treated, left to their fate or, even worse, subjected to medical experiments. In a down-to-earth and apparently simple idiom, Vlaminck takes us with him into the head of a corrupt monk.
Alex Berger, a rather unusual private detective, was chief of police in Brussels in an earlier existence. Now he leads a solitary life and regularly heads out into the natural world. Berger is on a retreat in the Italian Alps when inspector and friend Sara Cavani of Interpol asks him to come back to help investigate a gruesome murder. Alex hesitates, but eventually takes the bait.
Manon and Max, along with their teenage daughter Noah and poodle Kim, seem to be the perfect hipster family. A combination of money and taste has persuaded them to buy a crumbling mansion with ‘great potential’. Beneath the banality, madness lurks. De Coster dissects contemporary relationships in all their manifestations, a minefield in which she is able to exhibit her comic talents.
Thirty-nine-year-old actress Ada presents a theatrical monologue that she has written, in the city where she completed her theatre training years before. It is also the place where her former drama teacher, who she had a relationship with as a student, lives. In Maaike Neuville's semi-autobiographical debut, a woman dares to speak out and honestly investigates where her own boundaries and those of others lie, whilst considering what responsibility comes with a position of power.
If this doesn’t get you to read, you might as well give up.
Unpopular eleven-year-old Jimmy's luck changes when a new boy arrives in the class. Tristan Ibrahimi is a refugee from Kosovo and Jimmy throws himself into the coaching of his new friend. When the Ibrahimi family receives a deportation letter, Tristan thinks up a plan in which Jimmy will play a crucial role. Born storyteller Lize Spit unfolds the plot of this topical and moving novella in an extremely exciting way.
It’s as if you’ve picked up a book by Patrick Modiano.
‘Incomplete’ is an intimate novel about the stories we tell. Those we use to build our identities, those about origins and kinship; truth and lies; and hope and disappointment. Like a Flemish Graham Swift, travelling back and forth between sympathetic melancholy and empathetic humour, Bogaert writes about loss and longing and succeeds in making his characters into real people - vulnerable, but at the same time strong enough to withstand some friction.
As if Vereecken is writing with a brush in her hand, so precise, apposite and original.
Jan and Hubrecht van Eyck are world famous, but few people know that they also had a sister who painted. In this novel, Margriete van Eyck is given the spotlight that she deserves. Vereecken reconstructs the life she might have led and brings to life the story behind 'The Ghent Altarpiece', one of the world’s most iconic paintings.
One of the increasingly rare writers who still shamelessly regards literature as an artform
DE STANDAARD ****
Kasper Kind is a solitary bioengineer who has been placed in charge of a small stretch of woodland that is suffering at the hands of climate change. He is on the point of committing a murder on the public figure Max de Man: a man among men, an intellectual fraud, a moralistic drip. Humour, social criticism, and rich language are ingeniously brought together by Yves Petry in this compelling monologue, with its unforgettable denouement.
This raw, semi-autobiographical debut tells the story of the unnamed protagonist’s childhood and a night with his former lover. It takes the reader through an emotional landscape that’s reminiscent of Ocean Vuong and Douglas Stuart. In cinematic scenes, Angelo Tijssens depicts the pain and longing of a life spent searching.
Tenderly and mercilessly, Sabi gives voice to three generations in a breath-taking novelistic debut.
In this family chronicle that takes the reader from sunny Casablanca to the chilly Netherlands, three women of different generations speak to us. From these three perspectives, each with its own narrative register, ‘Half a Life’ investigates the problem of how to live as a (Moroccan) woman, mother, daughter, grandmother, wife, widow and loved one. With love and empathy, Sabi portrays the lives of the women who have gone before her.
A collaboration between two gifted artists which resulted in a magnificent picture book.
Right from the very first sentence, ‘From Looking Came Seeing’ submerges the reader in the sense of loss felt by a woman whose husband has gone from her life for ever. Godon, with characteristic brilliance, portrays the loneliness, emptiness or aimlessness that his departure brings with it. In a soft, carefully considered palette, she closes down and opens out the woman’s world. Without doubt both a homage and an invitation to the human gaze.
'Bodies' is one of the best things Verhelst has written.
A man leaves on a voyage of discovery to forbidden territory. He roams a post-apocalyptic no man’s land, in which nature seems to have defeated humankind. ‘Bodies’ reads like a meeting between personal and global trauma, perhaps the result of climate change. Verhelst forces the reader to reflect upon all that we are in danger of losing. More than a dystopian tale, ‘Bodies’ is an ode to language, the imagination and the telling of stories.
You don’t need metaphorical excesses when you can write like Peter Terrin. *****
'The Event’ is a masterful frame story in which tales of love, loss and growing older subtly flow into one another. At the centre are Willem, a bestselling author, and Juliette, his assistant. The writer has become almost blind towards the end of his life and he dictates his novels to Juliette. After his death, Willem leaves the recordings for his final novel to his beloved assistant, along with the task of finishing the book. Following its publication, Femke, Willem’s young wife, takes Juliette to court. Willem has the final word, after his consciousness is digitally reproduced by scientists.
Tom Lanoye brings together three closely connected lives in Flanders at the time of the Second World War. Alex, a gifted theatre director and actor, his wife, Jewish star actress Lea Liebermann, and his brother Rik Desmedt, also a director and founder of the Flemish SS. 'The Turntable' is a timeless novel in which the author mercilessly exposes the inner workings of a European war.
Over a period of forty years, master con artist Piet Van Haut has presented himself as director of Johnson & Johnson, as an examining magistrate, and as the CEO of Belgian Railways. He has thereby stolen millions. Inghels not only tells the story of a real-life swindler, but also recounts his own adventures in writing a book about that criminal. He plays an interesting game with the boundary between fact and fiction. A shocking story about heroism, vanity, greed, ambition and manipulation, not just on the part of the con artist but on the part of the author too.
‘Breakers’ is a compact, visually oriented novella with a dash of magic realism.
Five lifeless bodies wash up on a beach close to a couple’s home, followed not long afterwards by the body of a child. From that moment on, everything between the man and woman who live in the beachside house will be different. Their safe world belongs to the past, now that the refugee issue has disturbed their harmonious world. Torn between guilt and impotence, the man and woman drift further and further apart until their relationship hits the rocks.
The atmosphere is vaguely reminiscent of Ben Lerner, Samuel Beckett and also the early Peter Handke.
Sibel, Ömer and Wernicke all live illegally at Istanbul airport. They symbolize a new generation of adults who do not feel at home in the countries where they were born, nor in their parents’ native lands. In this sensitive debut novel, language and the inability to understand one another are central, as is the impossibility of feeling truly at home if you are unable to speak your mother tongue.
An impressive story collection, in which Carmien Michels proves herself an extremely intelligent and sensitive storyteller.
In her debut story collection, Carmien Michels exposes the fragility of fatherhood. Her six short stories are really mini novels, in which her characters face illness, memories of a difficult childhood, stalking, rape and death. All fathers have a hard time, but some rather more than others. They fall short of expectations, miss their children, or struggle to emulate their own fathers. Michels’ characters echo the universe of Roald Dahl.
Penetrating and splendid, full of brilliant, somewhat harrowing images
A maverick of Flemish literature, Roger Van de Velde has had a lasting impact on the current generation of Flemish authors. The novel 'Crackling skulls' reflects his unique life. In twenty powerful short stories, Van de Velde portrays his ‘companions in misery’, people living on the fringes of society, with whom he found himself in psychiatric institutions. Empathy, combined with a powerful talent for observation, an eye for detail and literary flair, produces compelling portraits of lost souls.
Antonia grows up along with her three half-sisters and her flamboyant mother in the Flanders of the 1980s and ’90s. Her father is out of the picture. While she grows up, she discovers who he was. 'Pluto' is a multifaceted family story in which strong but essentially lonely women are central. With evocative writing full of sensual details, Taveirne creates an intimate world and presents a completely authentic view of major themes: loss, the desire for love and safely, the inability to form close relationships, absent fathers and the lack of an ‘ordinary mother’.
Beautiful! It’s hard not to be moved by the tender bond between brother and sister.
Nour is seven and incurably ill. But she keeps smiling and playing, whenever possible. While her parents are completely focused on her illness, the girl is growing closer to her older brother. He tells her stories to try and take her mind off the pain. Brother and sister imagine a universe of their own in which they are safe and connected. An ode to imagination, written in pared down language, somewhere between poetry and prose.
Loveling gives us an uncompromising, heart-rending glimpse into the emotions of someone who repeatedly gets the short end of the stick in life.
Marie and her sister Georgine, who is eleven years younger, live together in the family home after the death of their parents. Both sisters fall in love with their neighbour Luc Hancq, but he strings them along, leading to his murder and Marie's madness. In this brilliantly structured book, with its virtuoso use of perspective, Loveling takes the reader on a harrowing journey through the protagonist’s psyche.
A heart-rending, silent scream, a struggle with the giants known as hurt and loss and an attempt to say the unsayable.
After seven years Mari is still in deep mourning for Tully, her deafblind sister for whom she was like a mother. She decides to leave her husband Felix at home and sets off on a walk towards the sea, in search of a new beginning. During her journey, she meets some remarkable people, who encourage her to formulate profound insights into mourning, relationships with others and the inadequacy of language.
Stunning. A splendid, compulsive reading experience
The young, headstrong Saba wants to go to school, whereas her brother Hagos is unable to speak, read and write. The siblings, who have an extremely close bond, both refuse to conform to the roles imposed on them by gender and society. A compelling, vivid novel about the everyday challenges, feelings, intimacy, hopes and fears of refugees in an East-African camp.
Personal, genuinely interested and unbiased. No wonder that the people she speaks to are prepared to open up to her.
The Orthodox-Jewish community continues to capture the imagination. In ‘Minyan’, Margot Vanderstraeten gives the reader a glimpse into this world by interviewing several prominent figures. As she reports on her Hasidic neighbours, who live so close yet whose lives are so different, her tone is sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted, but always genuinely involved.
Bontenakel proves that he is a superb storyteller ****
A natural disaster is destroying Cape Ursus, a remote island in the middle of the North-Atlantic. The small community that lives there in the late nineteenth century is descended from castaways and has to fend for itself. Young teacher Ellie dreams of leaving the island, but her mother’s dementia is stopping her. And then she discovers someone else with serious plans to leave the island.
Janzing draws you into an Impressionist painting and makes you part of the scene ****
Late nineteenth century: Léonie Osterrieth organizes salons in her grand townhouse. She has a soft spot for explorers and wants to help Adrien de Gerlache to become the first human being to overwinter on the South Pole. Thanks to her, the Belgica sets sail from the port of Antwerp. Drawing on the correspondence between Léonie and her entourage, Janzing reconstructs the experiences of captain and crew.
A dog asks a cat to tell it something, anything at all. But the cat can’t think of a single thing. Then the dog flips things around and challenges the cat to think of nothing. It blows a fuse in the cat’s head: there’s always something. Something or nothing, that’s the question in this fun and philosophical picture book.
Schoeters overwhelms the reader with a rhetorical force borrowed from thrillers and from Tolkien. ****
Hunter White lives for the big game hunt. An immensely wealthy American share trader, he goes to Africa to shoot a rhinoceros, the last of the Big Five he has yet to bag. In this page-turner Schoeters takes us into the twisted mind of a Western hunter. White is guided by a morally dubious compass as he weighs up the value of a life, whether of a person or of an animal. A compelling ode to wild nature and a sharp critique of how we relate to Africa.
A heart-rending, harrowing book. Rhythmical prose, with great authority. ****
The Romanian Alina travels to Sicily with her eleven-year-old son Lucian to work in tomato cultivation, in order to earn money that’s badly needed at home. They have high hopes, but the reality is shocking. This socially engaged page-turner is not just a book about contemporary labour migration, exploitation and oppression, it is above all a story of resilience, the power of motherhood and women’s self-reliance.
A flawless novel with an atmosphere and intensity reminiscent of Graham Swift and Ian McEwan.
Peter Terrin takes you with him in this tragic, compelling love story to a crucial episode in the lives of Simon and Carla in the late 1980s. Despite their difference in age, Simon and Carla throw themselves into a passionate relationship, with far-reaching consequences. ‘All the Blue' is a sensitive and sensual novel about friendship and love, and about the delicate quest for an identity of one’s own.
Radiant fiction. This essential book shines a light on personal experiences of migration in ways that illuminate and surprise.
In this intriguing mosaic of ten stories Unigwe chronicles the unusual lives of a group of Nigerian immigrants who are making their way in Belgium. They all left their country in the hope of a better life, but the pain of missing Nigeria is a heavy price to pay. Readers will be moved by the realistic, recognisable characters and Unigwe’s empathetic analysis of a migrant community, the situation they fled and the disappointments in their new country.
At times poignant, at times shocking, but just as often witty enough to make you burst out laughing.
Annelies Verbekeinterweaves 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. ‘Trains and Rooms’ is like a hall of mirrors in which new doors keep opening up into other eras and narratives. It reinforces her reputation as the ‘Queen of the Flemish short story’.
Spit set the bar high, then launched herself over it with linguistic agility and skill
Leo has been together with her boyfriend Simon for ten years. Their happiness is shattered after he comes home excitedly with a brand-new tattoo behind his ear. Simon’s sudden odd behaviour turns out to be the prelude to a psychotic episode, caused by a bipolar disorder. Spit convincingly portrays the oppressiveness, manoeuvrability and exhaustion resulting from life with a psychotic partner.
His crowning achievement. Olyslaegers masterfully takes us back to the time of the Great Iconoclasm and Bruegel. *****
During the turbulent 1560s, trade is flourishing inAntwerp and Beer’s inn becomes a refuge for freethinkers and trailblazers. Ten years later, Beer, now in Amsterdam, looks back on the events that prompted him to flee his native city. ‘Wild Woman’ is a monumental novel about the longing for unity and the discovery of an inner truth, about friendship, community, faith and betrayal. With his rich, sumptuous and debauched language, Olyslaegers drags you into the dark alleyways of the 16th century.
A young woman murders the man with whom she’s been having an affair for some time. ‘Raw and As If’ is not just a gripping ‘whydunnit’ but an expressively written psychological story about the consequences of a loveless childhood. Tack’s unemotional style builds the tension and sustains the dark world and psyche of the narrator.
A gem of a book that is as fragile and strong as her characters
The Low Countries
‘Bump’ is a poetic fable. Through the triangular relationship between the central characters, it beautifully reveals how difficult it can be to integrate other people into your own desires, and how miraculous moments of connection are. Tender, brief dialogues offer glimpses into a past marked by bereavement.
'Jam Street’ is chockful of beautiful observations and stylistic gems.
‘Jam Street’ is a poetic story about a culture clash in a deprived neighbourhood in Flanders, and it is also an ode to the beauty of the banal. The novel describes the brutal and raw reality of life in the margins, yet it is soft and tender at the same time.
De Gryse knows how to grab a reader by the scruff of the neck
Marieke is the youngest of four sisters in a family with an absentee father and an unstable mother. She works in a care home, where she’s happiest in the kitchen. 'Pork Chops' a tragicomic tale about sticking up for yourself and about caring – but above all it’s an ode to comfort food.
A tender novel capturing the soberness of rural life, the daily routine and the things that are unspoken. About a subtly developing love triangle, with eye for nuance and the complexity of the multifaceted love between the characters.
In ‘Lightning Stone’ Johan de Boose takes the reader on a journey across the US. With his warm, affectionate pen de Boose evokes a vivid world, cleverly alternating between contemplative-philosophical and familiar, as well as striking the occasional humorous note.
A beautifully written debut about loss and (step) motherhood. With immense compassion, Van Offel draws psychological portraits that cannot be viewed independently from identity politics and the wider political situation in Israel.
‘Reports from the Void’ is not a novel but an ego document: a collection of excerpts from letters and diary-style notes. Right from page one we realise that the author is not in a good place. We only find out why at the end. Until then, Verhulst gives us a bleak glimpse of his path to self-destruction.
As if Mark Oliver Everett of Eels tried his hand at writing fiction.
In eleven short stories, Van Thuyne introduces the reader to her highly authentic and eccentric universe. She creates a universe peopled by characters who are slowly losing their grip on reality. Her vivid and filmic stories are exercises in controlled madness. ‘We, the Foam’ is highly unconventional and truly remarkable.
Marcel returns to his grandmother Andrea’s house, hoping to uncover the secrets of the past. He wants to know why he was named after his grand uncle Marcel, Andrea’s brother, who died on the Eastern Front.
‘The Raccoon’ is both hilarious and moving. With prose drenched in the vernacular and flirting with the techniques of oral narrative, Skorobogatov shows himself to be an heir of the Russian story-telling tradition of Gogol. With this book, he delivers an ode to the little man, or the raccoon, in each of us.
Challenging and haunting. Ait Hamou is emerging as an important voice of his generation.
Without realising it, the young Belgian-Moroccan Soumia became an accomplice in a terrorist attack and was given a prison sentence. Tough old Fleming Luc lost his wife Maria in the attack. He is unable to let go of the past and rails at ‘those bloody foreigners’ to anyone prepared to listen. Ish Ait Hamou goes in search of what binds us together, our longing for forgiveness and acceptance and our ability to understand each other in an increasingly polarised society.
Six’s descriptions are peerless: he depicts powerful scenes with clinical precision, much like a miniaturist or a film director. ****
After a worldwide fire and the collapse of neoliberalism, the financial elite has withdrawn to a tropical island. There they continue their affluent lives while the soil shrivels up beneath the unforgiving sun and the indigenous population is oppressed, terrorised and massacred. ‘Volt’ is dystopian and reverberates with echoes from classics such as George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’.
The master of animal illustrations and the king of animal stories come together in this inimitable book. In seventeen stories we meet animals who would like to be different, until they realize how special they already are. Both visually and in its storytelling, this is a delightful book.
'Here' is a shabby village close to the border. People from Here who travel abroad are welcome only as a source of cheap labour. Until one day the borders are shut and no one is allowed to leave the country. In her poetic prose, with its apparently simple sentences, Joke van Leeuwen manages to evoke a mythical world that we can connect with contemporary themes such as xenophobia, migration and totalitarian regimes.
222 beautifully worded pages - Brijs pushes his boundaries as a writer.
Het Belang van Limburg
‘The Year of the Dog’ is a scintillating, often harrowing novel about love, lust, betrayal and the (im)possibility of close friendship between a man and a woman. It is Brijs’ very own version of ‘When Harry met Sally’.
Writer Koen Peeters and painter Koen Broucke, both fascinated by Ostend, wander through the streets in search of the town’s soul. ‘A Room in Ostend’ is a moving and sometimes ironic account of their peregrinations. It is a book about friendship, loss, self-reflection, adventures big and small and the magic that encounters can bring.
Magical prose that is almost unequalled in our literary tradition.
In order to address several hot topics, Fikry El Azzouzi opts for all-out satire in ‘The Reward’. With acerbic wit and absurd humour he writes the coming-of-age story of a boy in search of both his sexual and national identity.
The unexpected is what excites in this novel. A damn good piece of work.
Mattis, a self-declared ‘champion of solitude’, spends his empty days in a dilapidated house beside a lake, far from civilization. He looks upon life with derision and self-contempt. Then Elma strides into his life, naked, wading across the lake. A novel permeated by both humour and melancholy, cynicism and sarcasm. Vintage Verhulst.
'Hinterland’ is a claustrophobic novel about solidarity and individuality, which makes us think about the way we treat the earth and our fellow man. If that world becomes a world that can no longer accommodate us all: who gets to stay and who doesn’t, who belongs to ‘our group’?
Verrept needs just a few words to evoke the drama of far-reaching events.
Fifteen-year-old Nabila has had enough of the monotonous life in her village. Egged on by the spirit in her head – her djinn – she travels to Beirut as a stowaway in her uncle’s taxi. Verrept sketches the hopelessness of life on the street in a city torn by both war and the widening gap between rich and poor. The greyish images with powerful charcoal lines and sombre colouring accentuate the dark threats to the city.
An exceptionally sensory narrative that revels in language ****
‘Salt’ is a comedy, a rollercoaster of absurd incidents that shows mankind at its worst. This dystopia is situated in an unspecified past, but manages to describe our own age in an eerily compelling way.
A philosophical book that challenges the motivations of western aid workers in Africa, and at the same time an account of an idealistic, lonely western man who is incapable of exorcising the ghosts from his past.
'Night Parents' is a swirling mix of intimate night-time conversations, brooding diary excerpts, meaningful flashbacks and scenes filled with slapstick, culminating in a gothic novel complete with sawn-off fingertips and family secrets.
Uncomfortable conclusions alternate with vivid images
The international bakery appears to be a place where freedom and civil rights prevail. The whole world comes together here. Nolens has written a distinctly political and contemporary pamphlet, an attack on our individualistic society. He portrays the poetic and multi-layered quest of an individual who seeks to connect with the fluctuating forms of community in a city.
In ‘Cursed Wood’ Johan de Boose gives voice to an object rather than a human being. A piece of wood, originally from the Cross of Christ, travels through Europe. The reader is taken on a journey past the most dramatic events in European history, all of which the wood has witnessed.
Astrid is a successful events manager and mother. When her iPhone falls into her son’s bath after a busy day at work, something snaps in her. Impulsively, she walks out of the house and drives out of her residential suburb.
In controlled prose, Peter Terrin sketches a surreal and oppressive portrait of a woman who loses it in an apparently safe and everyday environment.
Amazigh, a young Moroccan, ends up behind bars after attempting to get his revenge on his French father. There’s only one way he’ll get out of prison: a one-way ticket to the French frontlines in World War I. Rachida Lamrabet tells a story that is forgotten all too often: that of the soldiers from the colonies who were swept up in a war that was not theirs.
Shockingly raw and enchanting in equal measure *****
Daughter is a girl with learning disabilities. She does not recognise cruelty, or sexual abuse, when it is done to her, or when she does it to someone else. The events are shocking to the reader, but not to Daughter herself. The disconcerting effect of this contrast is reinforced by the book’s extremely efficient, economical style: brief chapters with short sentences that paint a clear and credible picture of the reasoning of a mentally deficient and vulnerable girl.
‘Before Forgetting' is a dance. A painting of words. A hand touching our sorrow.
Peter Verhelst’s mother dies unexpectedly. He witnesses his father’s grief and must also find his own way of coping. Still, this is neither a book about mothers, nor a book about death, but rather a fervent ode to our floundering, tentative resistance to meaninglessness and sorrow. Verhelst struggles tooth and nail to create something vital—something that could continue to remind us, so that ultimately we can forget.
Incredible to see how much beauty someone can produce in half a century
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.
Haunting. With short chapters, Elvis Peeters keeps the reader in a stranglehold.
A boy grows up in a village where war threatens. Then, the supermarket at which the boy works is bombed into the ground. Leaving is now the only option. In confident, crystal-clear language, ‘Bread’ tells the gripping, poetic coming-of-age story of a boy who is not given the chance to enjoy his youth.
Twelve years after they had a short-lived but passionate relationship, the reserved Hermine and the tormented, suicidal writer Didier, drive to a conference in Vienna together. In this autobiographical love tragedy, Zvonik investigates with a delicate pen and psychological finesse to what extent it is possible to love someone, while at the same time keeping your distance.
Wild, dark, romantic and almost addictively well-written ****
‘North’ is a carefully crafted and addictively well-written debut novel about ‘indecision in the choice’: the choice between two men, between art and life, between Vancouver and the harsh life in the north, and between the musical styles that are entwined with each location.
In the world of ‘Beauty will rage within me until the day I die’, everything is returned to ashes by warfare. Everything, except for the memory of what once was humanity and the sense of humor that Hazim Kamaledin uses to describe the fate of his deceased doppelgänger.
Morgan is a jazz pianist from Brussels, with Congolese roots. He has banished the images of his childhood in the tropics from his memories… Until an out-of-the-blue encounter changes his life, that is. This is a novel about ‘half-castes’, and how the Belgian colonizer used to treat these mixed race children, separating them forever from their biological family.
Lanoye leaves no stone unturned in a ruthless novel
Gideon Rottier is a loner with a speech impediment and an unusual job. His life takes a different turn when Youssef, a refugee, becomes his new colleague. After an awkward start, they become best friends. But when Youssef disappears and leaves Gideon to look after his wife and children, things take an ugly turn.
A glittering, psychologically-charged firework! *****
Kate works as a nurse in a psychiatric clinic for VIPs in London. Her life turns into a living hell when it turns out that a tweet with confidential information about a patient has been sent out into the world from her account. She loses her job and is hounded by the paparazzi. To make matters worse, there is someone else who’s got it in for her. A wonderfully-written, triumphant crime novel with strong characterisations, in which the various plot threads are cleverly interwoven.
'Mazel tov' is a compelling, thought-provoking story about children growing up in a Modern Orthodox sect, as seen through the eyes of a young woman who is not Jewish. It gives a unique glimpse of the unfamiliar world for both sides.
‘The People Healer’ is a novel about the invisible forces that guide people’s lives, and about the immutability of those forces. The First World War, Belgian colonialism in the Congo, and the present day are all woven into the fabric of the story. The storylines Koen Peeters sketches eventually converge in a quest to fulfil a longing that every person feels: to discover oneself and to give meaning to one’s own life.
Following the adaptation and sanitisation of fairy stories by the Brothers Grimm, Disney and others, writers are increasingly restoring these tales to their original, complex and sometimes dark and creepy forms. Marita de Sterck is the unbeatable master.
His sentences are balanced and rhythmic, his language shines. *****
Seb and Billie are seventeen and are both a little strange. Thanks to their friendship, the quiet Seb blossoms and opens up. But then Billie has an accident on a trampoline and ends up in a coma. Seb stops going to school and shuts himself away inside his room and inside himself. His despairing parents give him an airsoft gun for Christmas.
In her historical novel, which is based on actual events, Janzing shines the spotlight on the childhoods of two of the greatest icons of the 20th century: Audrey Hepburn and Anne Frank. Two world-famous girls born in the same year, connected by one devastating war.
In unconnected short texts, Ruth Mellaerts draws the reader into familiar situations, memories, thoughts and feelings. The interaction between words and illustrations lifts the book to a higher level and creates calm and beauty as well as words to ruminate on.
Once again, a fantastic thriller that you want to read in one sitting.
After a weekend away with the family, 36 year old Gaelle wakes up in the secure wing of a psychiatric hospital in Berlin, Germany. The police suspect her of attempting to murder her son. She manages to escape and is determined to uncover the truth.
‘She Alone’ is a story of a love between Western Europe and Islam, and a confrontation between and a merging of Europe and Islamic values, as well as a dystopic warning for Europe, and its growing fear of everything that is different.
Yuji Kohara is a molecular biologist who is researching the roundworm, C. elegans. One evening he accidentally gets off the metro a stop early. His absentmindedness sets him on the trail of an old flame. What follows is a long night, a restless week and a strange rest of the year.
A razor-sharp book about the cowardice we call neutrality *****
Wilfried Wils is an auxiliary policeman in Antwerp at the start of the Second World War. The city is in the grip of violence and distrust. Wilfried does what he can for himself, avoiding paths that are too slippery.
A crucial book that will stir hearts and minds ****
Stefan Hertmans based the story of ‘The Convert’ on historical facts, and he brings the Middle Ages to life with immense imagination and stylistic ingenuity. This is the story of three religions and a world going through massive change, a story of hope, love and hatred, a novel about a woman who can be certain of one thing: at home the death penalty awaits.
A debut that you wish every writer would write: surprising, imaginative and merciless *****
Eva, in her late twenties, travels back to her native village with a big block of ice in her car. She has been invited to a viewing of a new milking parlour at a dairy farm where her childhood friend Pim still lives, an occasion that will also serve to commemorate the death of his older brother, who drowned as a young man. Slowly it becomes clear she returned to her village to take revenge for what happened to her as a child...
On their way home from a holiday on the Costa Brava, Suzanne, Catherine and Hanna watch as their mother is mowed down by lorry on the shoulder of a French motorway. From now on, father Ivo will do his best to raise their three daughters, but without great success.
Packed with a Verhulstian wealth of poetry and politics
Liliya Dimova is the art-loving merry widow of an aggrieved Bulgarian writer. Her final wish in life is to correct the literary history of communism and wipe out every word written by Soviet regime puppet Mikhail Sholokhov by using the pages of his book as toilet paper.
For love of her late husband, and for all the other forgotten people who paid such a high price for their freedom of expression.
‘I Must’ is a collection of powerful portraits and philosophical texts full of compassion, vulnerable and confrontational at the same time. It exposes a merciless and terrible human tangle of obligations and expectations. Godon and Tellegen inspire thoughts, give a name to feeling and trigger involvement.
The Very Tired Man and the Woman who Passionately Loved Bonsai
De Wereld Draait Door
A woman reads a wanted ad in the newspaper one day: “man seeks woman to die for”. When she rings the number, she hears someone sigh. She’s never heard such a beautiful sigh before.
In this picture book for adults, Kaatje Vermeire’s pictures and Peter Verhelst’s words each tell a story of their own. The reader combines the two, creating an artwork on every page.
A summer Friday on the coast. Jonas is in an apartment with a view of the sea. He sits facing the door, waiting, a pistol in his lap. 'Blindly' is a humane, poignant tale of beauty and decay, deeds and dreams, the chosen and the damned.
Belgium in the 1990s. Hannah and Sophie are twelve and inseparable, the way only twelve-year-old girls can be. But when Hannah falls for the charismatic Damiaan their friendship changes. Then, after a late-night party in the village, Sophie fails to come home.
Hurtles along like a high-speed train and has you in its grip right from page one
This novel spans the last eight hours in the life of Haruki, a Japanese macaque who ‘lives’ in a neurophysiology laboratory. The story is told from the perspective of Haruki himself, as he reflects on virtually every aspect of being an experimental animal, while awaiting ‘his last major experiment’ – being put down.
So confusing, intriguing, dark and horrifying that you want to devour every single page *****
'Cinderella' is a semi-autobiographical novel about the son of a prostitute who opens a brothel and becomes his mother’s pimp. It is a grand novel, written in raw prose, tackling the tribulations of running a brothel and the inescapable relationship between mother and child. It is a refreshing combination of filth and the sublime, of tragedy and comedy.
Gronda writes clear prose, melancholy, but seasoned with a slight irony that alleviates the weight
Three days before a major exhibition of his paintings in Venice Igor Nast receives a call from his half-brother, summoning him to Switzerland to his father's deathbed. A father of whom he cherishes not a single memory.
Skorobogatov carries you off and bewitches you with his lovely language ****
‘Portrait of an Unknown Girl’ is not only a powerful story of the beauty and tragedy of first love, but also an uncompromising portrait of an inhumane epoch and an oppressive regime that breaks people, punishes innocence and integrity and ruins lives.
Daem's stories exude daring and the urge to experiment. ****
This book is Daem’s disconcerting, funny and idiosyncratic debut. Despite the often dark subjects – he does not fight shy of death – Daem invariably allows a gleam of hope to show through in his stories. He carries the reader along with his excellent sense of control and structure, working out the dramatic storyline to the last detail.
Glasgow, 1983. One stormy November night, six-year-old Rosie Thompson disappears from the bedroom she shares with her twin sister Ruby. No trace of her can be found. Thirty years later, someone leaves a message in the confession book of an old Scots clergyman: ‘I’m sorry about what happened to Rosie Thompson. May God forgive me.’
A novel full of suspense which will leave you dazed
In ‘Hunt’, as in his previous novels, Elvis Peeters succeeds in raising a fascinating moral issue through what appears to be just a story: what would happen if animals could think too? ‘Hunt’ depicts the biotope of man as an animal among animals. Will human hegemony remain in place, or do we need to share our dominant position with others?
Christophe Vekeman decides, after a series of well received but not particularly successful novels, to give up writing. In ‘Hotel Rozenstok’, Vekeman presents an original and persistent challenge to all aspects of writing, balancing on the tightrope between fiction and reality, between fantasy and realism.
Rough-and-tumble versions you have never heard before
In ’Dirty Skin’ anthropologist Marita de Sterck has collected forty Flemish folktales, uncensored and as close as possible to the oral tradition. Sometimes farcical and often grotesque, they are jam-packed with violence, lust, jealousy and the black arts.
The Boy, the Hornbill, the Elephant, the Tiger and the Girl
So beautiful that you often want to read passages twice.
A boy is taken to a secret valley by the men of his village, where he is to be initiated into everything a man needs to know. Fear, courage, loss and death are the themes that emerge from Peter Verhelst’s poetic words. Carll Cneut complements the story with pictures that show the beauty of nature and the insignificance of humans.
Against the background of a community trapped between tradition and change, between past and present, ‘Moon and Sun’ is a family saga about background and poverty, honour and betrayal – a tale of fathers and sons and the soul of an island.
‘Love, So To Speak’is a stylistic, inimitable dark game between three characters in a love triangle in search of a foothold in a rocky life. Whether love can offer them that is very much the question. A virtuoso blend of philosophy and satire.
A novel about the ‘gap' inherent in the human condition and about the equally human desire to keep filling that gap with stories. It is a wonderful, stylistically astonishing trip that completely overwhelms the reader.
Pitilessly tense, stylistically strong and more suggestion than slaughter.*****
In ‘Fall’ Roderik Six goes armed with stylistic brilliance in search of the ultimate evil, and what loneliness can do to a person. He proves himself a master of suggestion: his ironic narrative style and sparse, subtle use of language create the perfect atmosphere and tension.
One of the great stylists of our contemporary literature
‘Blood Book’ is an ironic retelling of the first five books of the Bible. These stories are awash with blood, but thanks to their potency and popularity they constitute what may be the most important book in the history of mankind: the Pentateuch. Verhulst tackles the Old Testament with his characteristic linguistic flair, replete with folksy idioms.
In this gem of a story, Bart Moeyaert writes with surprising lightness about loneliness and dying. Gerda Dendooven’s robust green-and-black drawings capture the tenderness of death and the strangeness of this imminent demise.
‘The Bench’ is the moving story of a man overwhelmed by loneliness and anxiety. The poetic text and the atmospheric illustrations exude heartfelt melancholy and mournful solitude. Godon makes pain, desperation and yearning tangible.
A Shakespearean drama with the allure of a Quentin Tarantino film.
Vekeman paints sharp contrasts: between love and death, between the isolated loner and village life, between the sophisticated style and the striking primitivism of the characters and between the absurd humour and the serious topics broached. The charm of this book lies in the impossible combination of contrasts, which, one way or another, are ultimately drawn together.
An ingeniously constructed book, rich in language and nuance
'Thieves of Passion’ is an inspired epos about the youthful years that we lose, the love we long for and the mistakes that shape our lives. Victoria has written a recognisable generation novel about nostalgia for the golden days, for the places, the people and the stories that are gone for good.
Inspector Meerhout becomes entangled in a web of intrigue, death threats, rough sex and pangs of conscience. Motives and potential perpetrators abound, but where lies the truth? ‘Dead water’ is a real page-turner, with a well thought-out plot and fascinating characters.
After World War I Edgard Demont returns physically and emotionally wounded to his native country.In search of a safe place among the confusion and destruction he finds that lovers are more effective than medication in helping him live with injuries that go deeper than the scars on his flesh.
Angela Gutmann, who writes critical reviews of top hotels as a mystery guest, is staying at the famous Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai when, on 26 November 2008, four Pakistani terrorists burst in and start shooting people at random. The atmosphere evoked alternates between soft and melancholic. In between the vibrant, hypnotising lines smoulders a strong suggestion of suffering, loss and the need for (self-)control. This is a book about the barbed wire beneath the skin that we call self-preservation.
In ‘Mona in Three Acts’ we follow Mona from a nine-year-old girl who loses her mother in a car accident to a thirty-five-year-old woman who watches her beloved sick father die. This is a universal story about why we become who we are.
Max Herder is getting married to Isabelle Fabry. A Dutchman marrying a Fleming. By expanding Max and Isabelle’s tale into a social story, Reugebrink has, above all, written a subtle, intelligent account of modern Flanders.
El Azzouzi describes a group of young people who call themselves ‘Drarrie’ and populate the fringes of society. What begins as an entertaining picaresque novel slowly turns into a chilling story of radicalisation when one of the boys decides to become a martyr…
‘I Think’takes a close look at thinking from different perspectives. Ingrid Godon does this through a mixture of sketches and stylised, timeless portraits of young and old people, using a soft red to highlight details, while author Toon Tellegen works with gently philosophical reflections.
Monaco, May 1968. Just before the start of the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the entire grandstand is witness to a terrible incident. Within seconds, two people are caught up in an accident that will change their lives forever. ‘Monte Carlo’ reads like a film and leaves readers with a desperate longing.
This enthralling novel is a daring, but successful endeavour to paint a probing psychological portrait of a complex personality. At the same time, Hemmerechts develops an intense evocation of an unusual, intriguing relationship, astonishing and sometime provocative in all its directness.
In this novel, Koubaa approaches the style and yearning of Elsschot's best work
De Groene Amsterdammer
Can we really understand the past? Why do we so readily overlook the factor of chance? This makes ‘European Birds’ a novel where the truth is literally at stake: it is about probability and chance, about letting go and the art of not knowing for sure.
Nothing but superlatives. The master’s hand can once again be recognised.
While the other animals take life as it comes, the goose and his brother ask themselves questions that are sometimes bigger than themselves. Bart Moeyaert finds the perfect balance between gentle humour and taking their concerns seriously. This lends the stories a timeless and universal character, poetically worded by Moeyaert in his distinctive economical style.
Right before his death in the 1980s, Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather gave his grandson a few notebooks. For years, Hertmans was too afraid to open them – until he finally did and laid bare some unexpected secrets.
Flanders, 1914. David, a young Belgian schoolteacher, stands before the firing squad, sentenced to death for desertion. Days earlier, he was teaching his fellow soldiers in the trenches to read and write. But when he befriended a sensitive young pupil, Marcus Verschoppen, disaster followed.