Bodies’ is one of the best things Verhelst has written.
A man leaves on a voyage of discovery to forbidden territory. He leaves behind his wife and his house and wanders around between deserted tower blocks that have no identity, abandoned corpses and nature run rampant: a bear, butterflies, a magpie, mosses, algae and climbing plants. Anyone prepared to go along with Verhelst’s universe, a place bursting with images, becomes his fellow architect and, by deploying their own life, memories and deprivations, will inevitably create a different book.
You don’t need metaphorical excesses when you can write like Peter Terrin.
NRC Handelsblad *****
'The Event’ is a masterful frame story by Peter Terrin in which tales of love, loss and growing older subtly flow into one another. At the centre are Willem, an elderly bestselling author, and Juliette, his assistant, a single, middle-aged woman. 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'’ 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.
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’.
'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’?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
A captivating encounter with the remarkable Brontës
Lancashire Evening Post
In 1842 Charlotte Brontë goes to Brussels with her younger sister Emily to learn and teach, in the hope of starting her own private school. What exactly happened in Charlotte’s time in Brussels has never become completely clear... ‘Charlotte Brontë’s Secret Love’ is a Victorian flavoured book, with an omniscient narrator, which exudes a nineteenth-century, Brontë-esque atmosphere.
‘Woesten’ recounts a suffocating story full of village gossip about a family in which fate strikes with a heavy hand, leaving no-one unscathed. It portrays a realistic, almost naturalistic image of a typical rural village in the early 20th century and offers a nuanced view of the psychology of intriguing characters.
A bitterly angry and amusing novel. De Coster places her protagonists on the operating table and dissects them cold-bloodedly.
The reader lands in the midst of an upper-class world teeming with dramas large and small, where love, truth and ambition are regularly at odds. ‘We and Me’ is a brilliant, astute family novel, full of intriguing characters sketched with great psychological insight and compassion. The book takes the measure of the modern European, and demonstrates the strength of family ties.
While it entertains us with the strangeness of anthropomorphism, it is profoundly engaged with the strangeness of being human
The Times Literary Supplement
‘The Man I Became’ is an account written by an ape. Along with masses of fellow apes, he is plucked from a state of nature and, after a tough sea journey to the New World, subjected to a rigorous programme of civilization.
Theunissen has discovered his inner Homer for this modern Odyssey.
‘The Detours’ is a lavishly painted saga of a post-war family in which too much has remained unsaid. Theunissen presents unforgettable characters in search of a good life, of themselves and of a way to feel connected.
Beautiful adaptation of Stravinsky’s 'The Soldier’s Tale'
‘Someone’s Sweetheart’ is a fairytale in verse form, about a Russian soldier who is given two weeks annual leave from the battlefield in World War I. In the penetrating, moving text, Moeyaert continually plays with foreboding omens. The sinister atmosphere is enhanced by Korneel Detailleur’s impressive grey illustrations.
Robijn fits his touching miniatures into a larger, meaningful story without his characters becoming puppets. He is a born storyteller. *****
'The City and Time' consists of nine stories in chronological order, all of which take place in Brussels. Robijn’s characters all have difficulty getting by in life, but succeed by throwing themselves blindly into their regular activities. Until something – often love – turns up and turns everything upside down.
Will often have you in fits of laughter, only to grab you the next moment unexpectedly by the throat
A retired librarian wants to escape the dreary monotony his bossy wife has imposed on him.There is only one, extraordinary way in which he can regain the self-esteem that his marriage has dented.He plans to gradually feign dementia until he finds himself in a rest home, freed from all social and familial pressure.
Five people, linked together, tell their story. They talk about unexpected happiness that makes things complicated, about secrets that seem too big to handle, about the complex art of being young, about obstacles that seem like mountains, about keeping on trying, to the point where no one can go any further.
Van Gerrewey proves once again that the intangible nature of love is still fuel for literature
A man wakes up in a house belonging to friends who have gone on holiday. Accompanied by their cat, he recalls the previous summer, when a woman was still with him. He decides to write to her to bring her up to date with recent developments.
Is this a letter of complaint from a jilted lover, an exhibitionist confession to the world, or a scrupulous self-examination?
Verhelst creates visual prose and will not readily be surpassed in that respect
The Belgian Doctor Duval moved to a magnificent tropical island years ago. Together with the priest and the Madame from the coffee house, he involves himself in the destiny of Cassandra, the girl who stands constantly at the waterline. Life on the island is abruptly disturbed when several whales and a number of women and girls who are unable to speak are washed ashore.
Peeters excels in the plausible characterisation of entirely unscrupulous people
‘Tuesday’ starts as the account of an ordinary day in the shambling life of an old man. Wandering around the city, his memories rise to the surface. The major contrast between then and now, between the impassive registration of daily events where moral implications are entirely lacking and the underlying dramatic life experiences make ‘Tuesday’ an impressive novel.
A masterly collection of stories, highly intelligent and hugely comical *****
This ‘novel-in-stories’ displays how people often believe they know more than they actually do. They apply labels or draw premature conclusions and, by doing so, cause others to suffer. In this collection of fifteen stories, Verbeke plays a beautiful game with fiction and reality, with believing and exposing. The characters’ assumptions are depicted so realistically and convincingly that readers find themselves going along with them too.
This is not just a great debut novel, it’s a great book in general
An uncompromising reflection of the zeitgeist. Set against the backdrop of an ecological disaster, Roderik Six deploys his razor-sharp style to deliver a chilling story about the resilience of man and his ruthless urge to survive.
The most versatile and most exciting voice of his generation.
A chronicle about resistance and decay, with events that take place in Brussels, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Los Angeles. This novel comes as close as possible to the core of this era, which even the ultra-rich can no longer control.
Marita de Sterck gives fairy tales back their primal power.
In ‘Beast in Bed’, tales like Rapunzel and Snow White are restored to their former glory, giving them back their emotional and literary force and their fierce energy. A must-read for anyone who loves pure folk tales.
A complex but extremely clear and compelling novel about the recent history of Rwanda
‘A Thousand Hills’ is a rich book, written with highly imaginative touch, that reveals the beauty and the tragedy of the land of a thousand hills. It steers a course between novel, history, anthropological study, and news report. ‘A Thousand Hills’ is a provocative novel and has the power to fuel discussions that still take place about Rwanda internationally.
A clever thriller: exciting, with a well-rounded plot and very recognisable
When union official Martin looks away in terror from three youths who are spraying graffiti on a night train and then attack an elderly gentleman who says something about it, he finds himself in a moral quandary. Nobody notices him, he doesn’t have a mobile phone and the victim doesn’t seem to be in a bad way. Enough reasons for Martin not to call the police.
The work of a highly imaginative mind, full of scintillating, poetic language
The feigned cheerfulness of the family, the ambiguity of the characters’ banal behaviour and the gathering storm all suggest something terrible is about to happen. Combined with the suggestive style of the book, this ominous tension keeps the reader spellbound.
Flawless stories like these haven’t appeared in Flanders for a long time.
‘Barely Body’ is a collection of five classic existentialist tales about people who are alive only in the physical sense. Their dreams are mercilessly eroded by the ravages of time, turning them into pale shadows of who they used to be.
Lamrabet peels off skin after skin of the onion and does so in a magnificently compelling style ****
Moncif tells his story hiding under a table in the mortuary waiting for the guard to leave the building. His wife left him because he had distanced himself from Muslim culture and now that his brother has died in a car accident he has descended into deep despair.
An apparently trivial event trips an unstoppable chain reaction, leaving few characters unscathed. A tragicomic thriller with a strong narrative and everyday, yet unforgettable, characters. Uncanny, original and haunting.
It’s written with this precision, tenderness and sense of desolation
After Mortier's mother falls victim to Alzheimer's disease at the age of 57, he becomes the chronicler of her slow deterioration. ‘StammeredSongbook’ is not solely about mourning, but also about language, and above all about love. Mortier's book is an essential, universal lament, bitter and razor-sharp yet pure and sublime in its beauty.
Without doubt thé Dutch-language novel of the year. It is the most beautiful and overwhelming First World War epic of Flemish literature to date.
This is a novel about lies, illusions and make-believe. In an excellently documented portrait of an era, Brijs exposes the gulf between the excitement about the war and the appalling reality of it, depicted in strong dramatic scenes.
An immensely appealing novel, razor sharp in the psychological depiction of three generations of women. Humour and bitterness in the same breath.
‘Fire and Air’ is a moving tale of a family forced to live far from its native ground, in a place that will never feel like home. With sensitivity and humour Vlaminck shows the effect the uprooting of a family can have. It is the story of many emigrants all over the world, a highly-colourful portrait of a broken family.
Quality entertainment with characters that leave a lasting impression
Alex is a hero in the police force; Penny is an ex-whore and the leader of a group of militant prostitutes who have violently freed themselves from their pimps andanyone else who encroaches on their space. Once they were lovers, now they are perfect enemies in the smallest battlefield ever.
A novel full of warmth and characters that capture the imagination.
‘Night Dancer’ is based on the contrast that exists between tradition and modern life in present-day Nigeria. In this book, the author shows the dilemma that many people in modern Africa face. Her portrayal is effective and is done with subtlety and a keen eye for the complexity of African society.
Heart-breaking – right down to the square centimetre. Left me breathless and moved to tears.
A novel that confirms that loving, even at a distance, gives life great quality. Bogaert often works with stilled, intimate scenes, very precisely drawn miniatures full of fine details that attest to an extraordinary gift of observation. His seemingly modest prose shimmers with sensibility and emotion, with melancholy and muted tragedy.
For ‘The Virgin Marino’Petry was inspired by a notorious murder case in Germany in which a man was castrated, killed and eaten by his friend at his own request. His power lies in a combination of extremely precise, carefully considered formulations and astounding stylistic elegance.
In this exploration of a murderer’s motives, Bram Dehouck manages to capture the audience’s attention from beginning to end, culminating in a nail-biting, tragic finale that will resonate with the reader for a long time.