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A Bed in Heaven by Tessa de Loo (thoughts)

June 30, 2011

I put my previously-scheduled post for today on hold so that I could squeak in to Iris’ Month of Dutch Literature. It took me awhile to decide which book I wanted to choose as my first foray into Dutch writing (you can see the potentials if you’re curious), but in the end this one just called to me; I’m more interested in women than men authors right now and I didn’t want to start with a mystery/thriller novel. Plus, I suddenly realised it was almost the end of the month, so its 140-page length helped seal the deal! ;) The funny thing is, if I’d read enough of the blurb to realise it centered on WWII, I probably wouldn’t have picked it; I tend to avoid WII Europe in my reading. It would have been a shame to miss out on this one, so I’m glad I have a policy of never really reading publisher summaries!

The thing I loved most was de Loo’s writing. It is confident and sure, as well as spare: each word does what it needs to and there’s no fat around the edges. It’s written in first person, and I believed the narrator’s voice and character from the opening paragraph (click on image to enlarge):

The rest of the book is an exploration of the narrator’s relationship with her father, a Hungarian Jew who lost all of his family except one brother in WWII, and his family, as well as of course a description of how through a series of coincidences she meets a young man who may or may not be her father’s son. It jumps back in time to when the narrator is much younger, still figuring out who she is and her place in the scheme of things; I loved how deftly de Loo handled that college coming-of-age age period. De Loo also obviously knows the importance of family stories, the things that get passed on to each generation about the generations that came before.

This was a subtle, touching, gentle novella that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys that type of literature. It’s far more about characters than plot, about the internal than external life, and yet I get the sense that how the individuals in the story deal with the guilt and aftermath of WWII is reflective of Europe’s own need to come to terms with it. I’ll definitely be reading de Loo’s other (much longer) novel, The Twins. And thanks to Iris for giving me the incentive to pick this one up!

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011 11:41 am

    This sounds absolutely lovely. I’ll definitely have to remember it and add it to the ever-growing list. I love character driven novels!

  2. June 30, 2011 12:09 pm

    I love character-driven novels, too, and I’m so glad you don’t really read the publisher’s summary because I do love to read WWII novels and never heard of this one until reading your review! I hope it’s okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  3. June 30, 2011 12:34 pm

    Lovely review, Eva! I loved your description of de Loo’s writing – “It is confident and sure, as well as spare: each word does what it needs to and there’s no fat around the edges.” I also liked very much the passage you have quoted.

  4. June 30, 2011 12:56 pm

    Interesting – the book I just finished for Iris’s Dutch month (Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin) also involved a pivotal father figure on the verge of death and semi-incestuous themes. And the “can it ever be too late for happiness?” question is there too. This sounds lovely & thought provoking – always a good combination. :-)

    • July 1, 2011 4:42 pm

      That is an interesting coincidence! Especially since this author’s other book is called The Twins. hehe

  5. Melody Wilson permalink
    June 30, 2011 2:42 pm

    It sounds lovely! I just finished a 145-page novella, “The Bridge,” by Geert Mak — also a Dutch writer. It was fantastic! Very refreshing.

    • June 30, 2011 5:09 pm

      The Bridge has been translated to English, or do you read Dutch? I own the bridge but never included in my reading for the month because I thought it wasn’t available in English. I’m glad you liked it :) I have yet to try Mak. (Also, sorry Eva for responding to a comment on your blog).

      • July 1, 2011 4:43 pm

        No worries Iris! I hope Melody sees this and can answer your question. :)

  6. June 30, 2011 2:45 pm

    This sounds lovely. Happily it looks like my library carries it, so it will likely be my first foray into Dutch literature, too.

  7. June 30, 2011 4:32 pm

    Oh this looks beautiful!

  8. June 30, 2011 5:30 pm

    I cannot resist a good character-driven novel. I actually seem to have read quite a few books set during WWII so that bit doesn’t put me off at all.

  9. June 30, 2011 11:28 pm

    I am always up for books set during WWII and, despite having read The Twins several years ago, had never heard of this book until you first mentioned it. I’ll definitely need to track it down!

  10. July 1, 2011 1:32 am

    Geez…I have added SO many books to my wishlist today and this is definitely one of them!! Sounds so good Eva!!

  11. July 1, 2011 8:12 am

    I was wondering why you avoid books set in WWII Europe, but feel free not to answer! How did you manage to avoid it during your Russian degree?

    Next year I have to manage better my participation in the Dutch Month, also only managed one book… but it was a big one! I might go for this one to balance it out.

    • July 1, 2011 4:51 pm

      Honestly? I feel that too often the horror of the Holocaust/blitz/etc. is used as an emotional crutch by mediocre authors to try to strengthen their novels. Of course, there are exceptions, so if I read a v glowing review by a blogger w similar taste about a WWII novel, I’ll give it a go. But that very rarely happens.

      In college, I definitely read books about Europe in WWII! However, they tended to be nonfic. I studied Russian primarily for the political/international relations side of things; I only took lit classes when actually studying abroad. The required reading tended to be Soviet authors, of course, but for any optional reading I focused on pre-revolutionary Russia. I have watched quite a few WWII Russian movies though! And I don’t have as strong aversion to WWII in Eastern Europe as I do in Western Europe, since the former doesn’t get as much attention.

      Thinking about it, Purge also had a a WWII storyline and was v powerful. So perhaps I just avoid WWII fiction by Americans & Brits, particularly if it’s set in Western Europe…thanks for asking, this has made me think! Feel free to ask more questions, since my opinion is still quite hazy and newly ‘explained’. ;)

Trackbacks

  1. An Overview of Posts for Dutch Literature Month (2) | Iris on Books
  2. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

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