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.
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.
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.
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.
Stylistically sharp from beginning to end, a tour de force throughout
De Groene Amsterdammer
Eduard Bottelaer is a forty-year-old actor who doesn’t expect much from life any more. That is, until he meets the young artist Helena. When she sets off for New York, leaving Eduard behind, she gives him a special task. Eduard is hopelessly in love and becomes obsessed by the bizarre challenge, which lands him in the most unexpected situations.
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.
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 ‘Come Here and Let Me Kiss You’ 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 the ever-reliable fuel of 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.
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.
Full of love and admiration, yet quivering like raw meat.
'Speechless' is an ‘unadorned account’, an informal, honest testimony of a mother by her son, in which much is in what is not mentioned: good nature, gratitude, endearment, closeness. At the same time, Lanoye reflects on the actual function of writing and the vital importance of language in these circumstances.
When it comes to style, theme and narrative power, Olyslaegers proves to be a worthy bastard son of the great Hugo Claus. ‘We’ is a gift to Dutch-language literature.
Fast-paced and perceptive, ‘We’ is a many-layered book written in a natural, poetic language. It is a portrait of a man who is horrified by the pressure exerted by his environment as well as an incisive portrait of both the 1970s and today.
This book is worth three literary Michelin stars. It is a masterpiece.
This is a gripping novel about how chance and random pieces of information, transformed into poignant memories and delusions, can have a lasting impact on somebody’s life. Vanderstraeten creates an engaging human drama about a guilt-ridden man and manages to sustain the tension up until the surprising conclusion.
Monique gains a new lust for life in her devotion to protesting against the worldwide depletion of the fish population. This good cause justifies the flight from her own problems. Until she can no longer hide behind cod and tuna. An intelligent, intense and admirable novel full of ambiguous and laconic humour.
A tremendous novel, often horrifically funny and always unsettling
‘The Guard’ is set largely in the underground car park of a luxurious block of flats. Two guards, are never relieved. Terrin tells a strongly allegorical story of 21st century society. ‘The Guard’ is not only an enthralling psychological novel, but also encompasses oppressiveness, emotion and sensuality.
The story is about eight boys and girls who view the worlds of school and adulthood as empty. Free and secluded, they dispel tedium with uninhibited sexual games, continually shifting their limits. When one of them dies as a consequence, even this fails to move them.
A revelation. Reading a story like this makes you happy
Corriere della Sera
Robin, young and ambitious, takes a tour of all the capital cities of Europe on behalf of his world-weary employer, looking for new marketing strategies for promotional gifts. In ‘Great European Novel’ – a tongue-in-cheek reference to ‘The Great American Novel’ – Koen Peeters has found the perfect form for a book about Europe and the European idea that lies behind it.
Joseph Pearce asks relevant and nuanced questions about the Jewish identity.
Starting with a Jewish man requesting euthanasia in Belgium in 2008, Pearce traces the history of a Jewish family back to Poland at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Each chapter presents timeless conflicts between father and son. Do we stay or go, integrate or retain our own identity, cling to faith or enter the big, wide world? And how do we respond to persecution?
In the early twentieth century, Jean-Baptist Van Hooylandt travels from fair to fair with his collection of living human curiosities. The most astonishing piece in his collection is a ‘derodyme’: female Siamese twins, who unfortunately die in dramatic circumstances in 1912.
Old Helena looks back on her youth, the loves she has known, her marriage and the distressing time she experienced in World War I. The topic and style make ‘While the Gods Were Sleeping’ in all respects an exceptional literary experience.
Its wording is exceptionally meticulous and subtle. A work of art
In a fragmentary way Stefan Hertmans explores and evokes the consciousness of Jelina, a forty-year old author. Promises for the future have failed to deliver, any hope of finding happiness has shrunk. Will she choose her family in the end?
Lively and engaging... On Black Sisters’ Street is a pleasure to read: fast-paced, lucidly structured and colourful.
Times Literary Supplement
‘On Black Sisters Street’ tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe—and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives.
Beautifully articulated and full of unexpected twists and turns
‘Greener Grass’ is a collection of stories in which a succession of people step into the limelight, all of whose lives contain substantial hidden realms. With their emotional isolation and longing for affection, the characters arouse sympathy and compassion, even if their self-control ends in a violent outburst.
The novel presents a Moroccan outlook on the differences between Moroccans in Morocco and those who have emigrated; between their own values and Western values; between tradition and the modern ways of thinking that men find so hard to deal with.
Lamrabet creates above all a subtle and convincing portrait of a fascinating woman, who, standing firmly by her decisions, must pay the social and intellectual price.
With this extraordinarily successful book, Terrin confirms what gradually should become official: he and no one else is the most intriguing author of his generation.
‘The Bee Eaters’ combines a refined style with a great deal of depth of content, eeriness with the identifiable, the everyday with what is concealed behind the facade. Terrin is not only inspired by the work of Camus but also by, for example, Franz Kafka and Willem Frederik Hermans.
Flair, intelligence, and humour are abundantly present in his book.
Gram is a devotee of cool intelligence who likes to regard people as machines rather than as creatures with a unique personality and psychology. However, he cannot function as a machine himself. But then he becomes a prey to the thing he had always repudiated: emotions.
Two sisters, Hannah and Kim, were left by their mother under dramatic circumstances twelve years ago. Confronted with both professional and romantic issues, the two sisters decide to rethink their lives and leave for Australia. There they start on a suicidally inspired journey, in the course of which they are able to locate their mother, who is living with a group of Aboriginal women.
Often preposterous, sometimes poignant and, above all, consistently charming
Many years ago, Madame Verona and her husband, both musicians, moved to a house on a hill outside the village of Oucwègne. Verhulst portrays this worn-out village with an extraordinary sensitivity to simplicity and authenticity. The exceptional care he devotes to style, as a master of the craft, shows some very appealing geniality and intimism.
In a forgotten village somewhere in Flanders, a boy lives with his father and three uncles in his grandmother’s house. They’re an ill-mannered and coarse bunch, unpredictable heavy drinkers. Wallowing at the bottom of the social ladder, their lives are a total mess.
This is a story about how tragic loss can totally consume a human being. Chika Unigwe’s spare and accessible telling has created a truly poignant narrative.
Ike Oguine, author of ‘A Squatter’s Tale’
She explores the relationship between migration and loneliness, both of which are becoming more entrenched in modern European society. ‘The Phoenix’ is Unigwe’s debut novel: the story of a strong woman who, hit by loss, homesickness and illness, tries to keep going.
Virtuoso writing and an intellectually challenging reflection of our living environment
In this polyphonic theatre novella, there are fantasises, speculations and brainstorms in antitheses about the future of Europe. Seven anonymous Europeans tell their stories. Lanoye describes a future Europe that is dominated by dissatisfaction and the longing for a better version of itself.
In this tour de force, Koubaa brings the Western tradition of rationality and Eastern nature poetry into harmony with each other.
Bart Koubaa brings the life story of an ordinary man into direct connection with historical events and developments. His main character is a man trying to come to terms with his past but also fascinated by the mysteries of the universe.
A story that reads like a poetically written prophecy of doom
‘The Uncountables’ is a novel which brings to life the consequences of the warped relationship between poor and rich countries, in this case a Europe languishing in its wealth, and which brings home the possible consequences of an unstoppable stream of refugees. The novel engages with an all-too-real problem in a strongly allegorical way which confronts the reader with his own existence.
Geneticist Victor Hoppe returns after an absence of nearly twenty years to the village of Wolfheim. The doctor brings with him his infant children – three identical boys all sharing the same disfigurement. ‘The Angel Maker’ is a chilling story that explores the ethical limits of science and religion.
Detached and playful; mischievous, ironic, ambiguous and not seldom hilarious
The main character in ‘Blockmeat’ and his pal Celis attempt to organise a ‘better’ food distribution for the homeless. But thanks to the liberal amounts of wine involved, this inevitably gets completely out of hand.
Full of colour, sounds, clear water, and pure poison
‘The Unexpected Answer’ is a sultry book, full of insatiable passion that explodes in the penultimate chapter ‘The Love Letter’, an amalgam of letter fragments written by the collective of women circling Godfried H., and ultimately a single woman who appears in different guises.
‘Omega Minor’ is a total novel with an international air, in which the author explores the essence of human nature against the background of twentieth-century history. Its baroque, epic narrative style and structure, its ambition to lay bare human motivation and its determination to present ‘science, art and memory’ as one great interwoven whole make ‘Omega Minor’ a fascinating and thoroughly impressive book.
When she finds her husband dead, Alice does not rush to the phone to call the doctor or her son. She wraps Jules in a plaid, and makes plans for lunch. She is willing to relinquish her husband to death if need be, but not to the outside world. ‘A Day with Mr. Jules’ is a touching, convincing novel about the end of a man’s life: a worthy “sputtering finale of belching steam”.
Viktor, a biologist working for the Ministry of Public Health, has difficulty coming to terms with the death of his wife during a carjacking. Worried about the assumed lack of security at his son Igor’s school, he barricades the two of them in their flat. Extreme care and responsibility gradually turn into pure insanity.
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.
‘Sleep!’ is a convincing novel about two insomniacs, in which the author uses the complex personalities of her characters to pen a strikingly insightful vision of life and its experiences. Verbeke writes about the underdog, about people whose poignant yearning for a normal life arouses our compassion.
An extremely fascinating book in which the everyday lives of asylum seekers is told in an unparalleled fashion
The narrator, Bipul Masli, sketches an intriguing picture of life in an asylum centre. He describes the daily routine with detached irony. His tireless attempts to gain recognition as a refugee are both comic and touching.
Sober language, restraint, observational talent and the ability to tell a good story: Joseph Pearce has it all.
Gisèle remains a mystery throughout. Joseph Pearce shows everything she does, exposes her every thought. And yet... It gradually becomes clear that Gisèle makes things unnecessarily difficult for herself and for others.
‘Like the First Day’ is a novel of three trilogies. Every story starts with a burning desire for experiencing the first time anew. To achieve this apparently innocent aim, Hertmans’ characters overstep the psychopathological boundary, lose their way in the dark and slip into the abyss.
Verhelst writes this story of an inspired passion in highly poetic, but also glowing, compelling and incisive prose, with a strongly physical wealth of images, a super-sensitive and sensual explicitness. This creates a troubled, but fascinating blurring of the boundaries between reality and imagination, as well as reality and memory.
A talented writer, original and funny, who is definitely one to watch
While working on his thesis, David Van Reybrouck came across the accusation that the Belgian writer and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck had plagiarised from the work of the South African author Eugène Marais. ‘The Plague’ sweeps the reader along in a thrilling literary adventure, which leaves its image on the mind’s eye long after the last page has been turned.
The evocative power of language, together with Pleysier’s masterful arrangement of words and sentences, combine to make this a literary jewel.
Pleysier is a master at giving voice to that great and painful silence of the generations. He does this without using any great emphasis, so that the reader feels he is a guest in the house, and, like the narrator, looks forward to being invited to Berchem again next year.
This novel, peppered with countless striking metaphors and colloquialisms, describes the vivid history of a family in a Flemish village. The essence of the novel is a cautious fumbling for truth. A young boy attempts to fathom his grandmother’s proud, dour demeanour and to get closer to his teacher. But above all he wants to understand what happened to Marcel.
A display of fireworks so sensual you can taste them.
Gouden Uil jury
Perfect order always degenerates into chaos, and revolutions into hell. Peter Verhelst describes a city falling apart and descending into violence. ‘Tonguecat’ is a real literary tour de force, a visionary story about today’s urban society and about revolutions.
When Joseph Pearce was fourteen his father told him he was not an Englishman but from Germany and of Jewish origin. Twenty-five years later, Pearce decided to seek out his Jewish relatives. With the story of his own odyssey, which takes him to blood relatives on four continents, Pearce makes the tragedy of the twentieth century painfully palpable.
I am well past fifteen years old, but I am glad that this book has come my way.
Through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old girl, we witness the life of a broken family over the course of three stories. In the first of the three we plunge straight into a fierce family quarrel. All survive intact. But the tone has been set. Bart Moeyaert deals with love in a sensitive and refreshing way, expertly unravelling its complexities while at the same time leaving its mystery intact.
More than a tribute to a loved one and a poet: a sincere work by a sensitive and powerful writer
The author uses De Coninck’s poems as the vehicle to tell his story; with them she is able to describe the biographical background and the intimacy of their shared life, while retaining the balance she seeks. Within this poetic space she makes clear what Herman de Coninck was – and is – to her.
Claes’ ingenuity conceals the fact that he has cast his tale in the form of a thriller - a convincing and exciting thriller
‘The Phoenix’ is a historical detective story in the tradition of Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’. It takes place in Florence in 1494, and the leading character is one of the greatest scholars of the Renaissance, Count Pico della Mirandola, known as the Phoenix.
‘The Rumours’ evokes a panoramic image of 'la Flandre profonde', delving beneath the shiny veneer into the depths of its corruption and violence. Comprehension of the central storyline is hampered by the permanent tension between truth and lie. All this is presented by Claus in a playful style, as if we were reading not a dramatic allegory but a juicy village chronicle.
'High Key' is a postmodern novel, a collection of text types: monologues, dances and stories. Hoste tries to create a new reality via the imagination and techniques of association. It can be read as an incantation or a magic spell.
In ‘To Blackbird Creek’, Stefan Hertmans narrates the coming of age of a boy in a Flemish village in the 1950s and 60s, in a grotesque, but just as often moving way. His budding sexuality and lively imagination so take possession of him that the world appears dark, terrifying and full of secrets.
More beautiful and more moving prose has not appeared this year. A gem.
Thisbook is narrated by the author as a young boy, who listens to his mother read out letters from her absent sister-in-law, a Catholic nun doing missionary work in far-off China. The novelty is the narration of the story from a child’s perspective – a child who is so close to the ground that he tells people apart by their feet.
‘The Charred Alphabet’ follows the life of the author from October 1990 to September 1991. This literary diary is a colourful mixture of stories, impressions of and reflections on literature, art, love, nature, politics and growing old.
An original and particularly funny novel full of amusing melancholy
Lanoye has managed to deal with the banal subject of a boy's unrequited love in a thoroughly unbanal way. This auto-biographical story retains its power because it is imbedded in the hilarious background of a childhood in Flanders around 1970. With his rich, melancholic style Lanoye has been able to create a modest monument for his first `touching' romance.
Complete hopelessness without slipping into pathos or protective irony
In this collection of stories Berckmans shows the most unsavoury and corrupt side of reality. The unstable characters bear their existential emptiness without illusions, self-deceiving optimism is alien to them. Every sentence of Berckmans is filled with the buzz of rock ‘n roll.
A moving book with a rich and functional recounting of anecdotes
‘White is Always Nice’ is a moving story about origins, mourning and language. It is the extended monologue of an old woman who has just died but cannot stop talking. In a one-sided conversation with her silent son, she keeps up her usual non-stop chatter as her body is laid out and preparations are made for the wake.
‘Aunt Jeannot’s Hat' is set in a suburb of the city shortly after the Second World War. The air is alive with the excitement of newfound freedom and life has taken its leave of traditional conventions. The magnificent and the mundane aspects of a young boy’s life are beautifully depicted in many small details.
Fresh and candid. De Kuypers’s amused style lifts everything up out of the everyday.
At the end of the 1940s a family from Brussels resume a pre-war tradition of spending the summer in Ostend, on the Belgian coast. As he plays, the young boy Eric takes it all in: the sights, textures, tastes and smells – all the things his adult self will remember with delight and wonder.
Geeraerts’ sentences twist and twine across the pages like lightning-speed lianas
‘Black Venus’ is one of the most talked-about novels from post-war Flanders. The controversy surrounding the publication was astounding. Applauded as brilliant, then decried for ‘extolling of racism and pornography’; however shocked conformist Belgium might have been, no-one could really deny that seldom had a writer approached such a sensitive subject with such monumental daring.
Ingeniously constructed and imaginative tales arouse emotion and a sense of tragedy.
The four stories in this debut provide a caricatured but equally nostalgic and loving impression of ‘La Flandre Profonde’ and demonstrate Lanoye’s feel for humour and style. Although the main character from ‘A Butcher’s Son with Glasses’ resembles the author in many ways, these stories are nevertheless loaded with surrealism, wit and crackling irony.
‘The Man Who Found a Job’ is a milestone in Brusselmans' extensive oeuvre, serving as unique point of reference for one of Flanders’ most read authors. The combination of desperation and emptiness and the sardonic indulgence of this general malaise in the innocent, unsuspecting citizen caused a major stir in the traditional Flemish literature of the 1980s.
Central to ‘The Accursed Fathers’ is the life story of Pamela. Rejected by her mother who had been hoping for a boy, browbeaten by her father whom she refuses to hate, the heroine of the story is the eternal victim of a hereditary curse. Through her central character, Monika van Paemel exposes the subjugation of women
One of the landmark European novels of the post-war era
This Bildungsroman is also a social document about political and social misfortune in Flanders before, during, and after World War II. The novel has continued to be a bestseller for many years and has been translated into numerous languages.
Moving, interesting and a literary jewel in terms of its form
‘Letter to Boudewijn’ is a lesson in social history, a meticulous description of village life, and an autobiography all in one. It is a book in which the author confronts himself with his origins, with the shift from material to spiritual poverty, and with sorrow at the loss of solid ground in a group of people who stick together.
In ‘Writing Prague’ Daniël Robberechts tries to create a written portrait of this turbulent city during the end of the 1960s and the decade that followed it. As it goes on, the web becomes increasingly tangled, and ‘Writing Prague’ turns into a book about writing a book, begging the question: is ‘writing’ Prague even possible anymore?
Pierre, a suave young man from the insurance and banking world falls for Toni, a simple and somewhat unstable beautician working in show business. The couple gradually drift apart, until the inevitable break-up follows. Pierre continues to read Toni’s horoscope, Cancer. A couple of years later, he is called to her sickbed.
'Arriving In Avignon’ is its own strange and gorgeously sprightly thing. Here’s hoping that as many readers as possible will discover it.
Rain Taxi Review of Books
What at first resembles a cross between a memoir and a guidebook in time proves to be the story of a young man's dogged yet futile quest to know his own mind – unless it is the ancient city of Avignon itself that is our real protagonist: a mystery that can be approached, but never wholly solved. The narrative unfolds in a stream of consciousness, drawing the reader into the protagonist’s quest for experience.
A work of lasting value for any conscious human being
Basile Jonas, a sensitive and vulnerable teacher, is crushed and devoured by the totalitarian and materialistic society he lives in. Everything in this society is geared towards Utility and Profit, leaving no space for softer values such as poetry, music and friendship.
He bursts from every page and every line is brimming with a zest for life
‘The Alpha Cycle’ is one of the most overwhelming reading experiences in postwar literature. This five-volume series owes its legendary status to Michiels’ unsurpassed use of crystal-clear, almost primitive language. The first two volumes in particular, ‘Book Alpha’ (1963) and ‘Orchis Militaris’ (1968), have lost nothing of their punch.
The Heylen family hold an annual memorial for their dead mother in the vicarage of a Flemish village. This year, however, the solemn day sees friction and misunderstandings bubble to the surface, which makes for a chaotic gathering. In a haze of sexuality and violence, the hour of truth draws closer.
‘Wonder’ is without any doubt one of the landmarks of twentieth-century Dutch literature. The baroque plot is intertwined with strong psychological portraits, scenes from Flemish military history and lurid images of desire.
Sabine, who is confined to a wheelchair, is praying for a miracle. In exchange for a cure, she promises God to serve as a nun for the rest of her life. Her sole condition is that she gets to spend one more year with her lover Joris. Sabine is cured, but does not keep her promise: she marries Joris. When her husband and child die, she is racked with guilt.
With Jos Vandeloo we have gained one more great and modern writer
Louis Paul Boon
Three workers in a nuclear power station are irradiated during an accident. After examination, they are placed in a separate wing of the hospital, isolated from the rest of society and doomed to die within a week. When, after a few days, one of them dies, the other two men desperately undertake an escape attempt from this terrible isolation.
Journalist Freek Groenevelt’s life is thoroughly shaken up by a series of surprising events that seem to all revolve around an individual called Joachim Stiller. The novel is a textbook example of the magic realist style in which reality is interwoven with surreal elements: nothing is exactly as it seems.
One of the purest realisations of the therapeutic novel
One day while looking in a mirror Henri sees deterioration in a body that is no longer his. He undergoes a beauty treatment before entering into the ultimate confrontation with himself, arising from the ashes as a handsome young man. But this ‘purification’ is a vain attempt at camouflaging a life built on lies and deceit.
In ‘Minuet’, a man works eight hours a day in the deep-freeze basement of a factory. In that polar world he is accompanied only by his own fears and thoughts, and for hours on end he has conversations with himself. The neurotic protagonist poses critical questions about religion, monarchy and the State.
A fast-paced and nuanced story, a strong indictment of the exploitation of the child
A young girl from a working-class family gets up early for her first day at the brickworks. This first day at work means both the end of her childhood years and her ‘initiation’ into adult life. She makes her first acquaintance with the gruelling work, the brutality of the workers and the tyranny of Krevelt, the dreaded boss. She can see only one way out: the young love that blossoms between her and an apprentice. But will that be enough of an anchor to keep her from drifting into the danger that fate is mercilessly pushing her towards?
One of the few truly magnificent novels in Dutch language-literature. A masterpiece.
This novel tells the story of Ondine, who was born in a poverty-stricken house in Chapel Road at the turn of the twentieth century. The Times Literary Supplement wrote: 'Since its original appearance in 1953, this novel by the candidate for the Nobel Prize has been controversial as only works in advance of their time can be; and even now that experimental writing is commonplace, it has lost none of its freshness and vitality.'
His is some of the most exquisite work to be found in Dutch.
‘Winter in Antwerp’ is the singular follow-up to Gilliams’ ‘Elias or the Struggle with the Nightingales’. Elias now having lost his mother and spent months in hospital, is walking to his elderly father’s house. In brief, associative, yet carefully composed chapters, the narrator examines his past, his obsessions and his fears.
‘The Battle with the Angel’ tells of the life of a community, spread over several generations, but primarily between the world wars. The work bears witness to an unbridled creative force masterfully endeavouring to portray the contrast between primeval nature and decadence. Teirlinck never moralises or lectures, but is majestic and full of compassion for his characters.
‘Lament for Agnes’ is essentially an autobiographical novel. The character of Agnes is in many respects that of Gijsen’s own fiancé who died of TB, while the narrator has much in common with the authors as a young man. ‘Lament for Agnes’ is a novel that is once deeply personal and a fully independent work of art.
After a mysterious journey in a train populated with sleeping passengers, three train travellers find themselves in a strange, shadowy land, a timeless transition area, to which each responds in his own way.
'The Duck Hunt' is the story of a Flemish farming family during World War II. The centre of the family is the widow Metsiers, who is called ‘the Mother’. Years ago, she murdered her husband, together with her lover Mon Verkindere, with whom she now lives on the farmstead. She has two children: Ana and Bennie. Bennie and his half-sister are driven ever closer together, until a love grows between them for which Bennie eventually has to pay the price.
A mix of acutely observed human passions and surrealist contradictions
Dietsche Warande en Belfort
Teacher Govert Miereveld becomes enchanted by his pupil Fran. Unable to express his love, he leaves the school and changes both his job and hometown. Ten years later he attends an autopsy, which affects him a great deal. Later that day, he also runs into Fran in the hotel where he is staying. That night, he visits her in her hotel room, where a drama unfolds.