Book Review: The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld


Publisher: Faber & Faber

Genre: Fiction, Psychological thriller, Literary Fiction.

Review in one word: Subconscious

Originally published in Dutch and winning the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, Lucas Rijneveld’s debut novel captures in bloody, beastly and corporeal detail the lives of a dysfunctional farming family in the rural Netherlands, some time in the 1990s. The protagonist Jas has a powerful, unconventional narrative voice, she is a preteen aged about 12.

When Jas’s brother falls through the ice and unexpectedly dies – deep cracks and fissures form in the family’s connective tissue. They become floating satellites unmoored from each other and are increasingly destructive towards each other as the book progresses.

There is a low almost inaudible hum that is created by this writing. It’s the constant buzz of mental illness, family trauma, blooming pre-pubescent sexual longing, all against the background of a fundamentalist Christian world view.

In the hands of a less skilled writer, this book would be boring and unreadable. However Lucas Rijneveld has turned a deeply dysfunctional, unhappy and unpredictable family into a work of art with her words alone – this is a magnificent achievement.

โ€œI was ten and stopped taking off my coat. That morning, Mum had covered us one by one in udder ointment to protect us from the cold.โ€

โ€• Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening

Jas turns to obsessive compulsive behaviours and strange beliefs, which she holds like a protective talisman to come to terms with the chaos of her family. Her older brother and father have malevolent and abusive tendencies. Her mother checks out completely from her body. Circumstances in the family take a dramatic turn (I won’t reveal how here, as I will give away the plot). Suffice to say that this is a strange, pitch black world of driving rain and very little light.

โ€œEven the Big Bear from my favourite picture book, who takes down the moon every night for the Little Bear who is afraid of the dark, is hibernating.โ€

โ€• Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening

Normally I would not enjoy such a novel, with such disturbing and confronting themes. However this is written in such a beautiful poetic way that the book cannot simply be abandoned. Instead, it is compulsively readable and in a strange way enjoyable.

This is a book with loads of dark themes and symbols. Although told from the perspective of a child, this book is far from being suitable for children – there is a fair share of Nazi symbolism, animal cruelty, graphic violence and child abuse in here.

This book is “enjoyable” in the same way as it is terrifying to look at a grotesque Francis Bacon painting.

Jas is a unique, oddball and alien narrator of her chaotic world. Her understanding of the world rings true and authentic.

โ€œNobody knows my heart. Itโ€™s hidden deep beneath my coat, my skin, my ribs. My heart was important for nine months inside my motherโ€™s belly, but once I left the belly, everyone stopped caring whether it beat enough times per hour. No one worries when it stops or begins to beat fast, telling me there must be something wrong.โ€

โ€• Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening

If this all sounds very unpleasant and awful – it is! However, this is one of those ingenious books that is deeply shocking but can never be abandoned half way – it is simply too good, too compulsive to keep going.

The reader is able to appreciate its grotesque beauty of The Discomfort of Evening, while being shocked and disgusted at the same time. I would recommend reading it, although it may scare the pants off you. Like any great psychological thriller or horror it haunts your mind and stays with you for many weeks afterwards.

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Mฤori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Mฤori culture and loads more.

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