Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke

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Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Florence Holmes
Reviewed by Florence Holmes
Summary: An intriguing setup spread too thinly to be satisfying.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 348 Date: August 2016
Publisher: World Editions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-94-623-8069-1

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Thirty Days doesn’t seem to know what it is about. The novel follows Alphonse, a Senegalese painter decorator living in the Flanders region of Belgium with his girlfriend and childhood friend Cat, who is recovering from cancer. Verbeke puts a major emphasis on their intimate but often volatile and unsteady relationship, as they try to navigate a new lifestyle in a small town, away from the city. However, there are several other storylines which vie for our attention: Alphonse’s troubled clients who treat him as a sounding board and therapist, his experiences of racism as a black man in a rural area, Cat’s difficult, warring parents, the couple’s elderly neighbour Willem who is obsessed with war graves and has a knack for appearing at precisely the wrong moment, and an illegal refugee camp in field trenches a few miles away.

The last of these is the most interesting but it is only introduced halfway through the novel and it feels as though Verbeke skirts around the story rather than taking hold of it. We want to know how and why the camp was created, what its inhabitants left behind, how they occupy their time. Instead, we get fleeting glimpses squeezed in between the other story lines and as a result, the reader is left dissatisfied, feeling there is far more to be said. Considerably more space is given to the tangled lives of Alphonse’s clients but their problems feel contrived and rather too close to soap opera. Verbeke allows Alphonse to teeter on the brink of becoming an irritating saviour figure, becoming the confidante of unfaithful partners, stopping teenage girls from jumping in front of trains and casting out demons for the elderly.

While the novel is written in the third person from Alphonse’s point of view, Verbeke occasionally uses the voice of another character who is observing Alphonse. These intermittent paragraphs appear in italics to alert the reader to the change in viewpoint. Unfortunately they are too short to add anything of value and instead come across as sickly ego stoking for Alphonse, who is vain enough already. His musicality and love of the kora is another aspect of the novel which could have been extended to better effect; the reader is intrigued and Alphonse’s intense connection with music could be moving but it is as odds with the fast pace of the rest of the novel.

Of course, there is a caveat here in that the translation from Verbeke’s Dutch may be partly to blame for the novel’s flaws. However, without knowledge to the contrary, it has to be assumed that the translation provided accurately conveys the message and tone of the original edition. As such, Thirty Days is a tantalising but disappointing novel.

Further reading suggestions: Heroes (Most Wanted) by Anne Perry, Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

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Buy Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke at


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