Gerbrand Bakker (VINTAGE)
Helmer Van Wonderen ditches university to return home to the family farm in north Holland when his twin brother, Henk, is killed in a car accident. Nearly forty years later, Helmer, now 57, ponders the path his life has taken while waiting for his invalid father to die.
The catalyst arrives in the form of Riet, Henk’s teenage sweetheart, who now has an adolescent son.
Helmer has inherited the life of his dead twin, and Bakker’s great skill is to characterise the mixture of grief, guilt, rage and regret that shadows Helmer, without resorting to caricature or clunky exposition.
Similarly, the remote Dutch countryside serves as an effective motif, mirroring Helmer’s isolation.
Helmer is a beautfully realised character; Bakker doesn’t hit a single false note in mapping his protagonist’s inner thoughts, and has a fine ear for dialogue.
It sounds bleak, but there’s enough tenderness and humour to balance the melancholy, and Bakker delivers an ending both satisfying and authentic.