Translations bring to light Dutch women writers from different eras
Betrayal and revenge drive powerful novels by Ida Simons and Wytske Versteeg
Sat, Nov 5, 2016, 00:00
Also from the Netherlands is Wytske Versteeg’s fraught, articulate second novel, The Boy, translated by Sarah Welling (Hoperoad, £10). When the body of her adopted son is discovered on a beach, the narrator, a psychiatrist, is driven out of her coldly ordered mind with grief and falls prey to a dangerous anger. Intent on revenge, she tracks down the teacher who appears to be responsible.
Through the voice of the mother, skilfully moving from first to second person, Versteeg has created a character as old as literature. It is difficult to like her – “I was good at my job, but I wasn’t the understanding friend my patients liked to see in me . . . other people’s problems were rather like heavy rain outside the window” – yet we are in awe of her fury and the remorse which causes her to admit that she barely knew the boy who had become her son and gradually evolved into an estranged and troubled teenager. “I lost him . . . maybe long before I even noticed.”
Her quest destroys her relationship and brings her to Bulgaria and to Hannah, the hapless drama teacher, already possessed by multiple demons.
While the mother’s psyche is indeed dark as she closes in on her prey, the teacher’s story is unexpectedly sympathetic, culminating in a helpless “I only wanted to help him”.
Although it is irritating to note that “different to” rather than “different from” is used throughout, this is a powerful and convincing study of how the real victims of death are often the living left behind.