The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve
|The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Rebecca Foster|
|Summary: A Dutch classic from 1947 appears in English translation for the first time. Twenty-three-year-old Frits van Egters lives with his parents, works at an office job, and spends his evenings wandering the streets of Amsterdam and visiting friends and relatives. His ennui comes through clearly in these 10 chapters set at the end of December 1946.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: November 2016|
|Publisher: Pushkin Press|
|External links: Author's website|
The Evenings was voted the best Dutch novel of all time by the Society of Dutch Literature, and its author, Gerard Reve (1923–2006), was the first openly gay writer in the Netherlands. It's a historic book for its native country, but will it have the same impact in English translation? Contemporary Dutch novelist Herman Koch compares The Evenings to the works of Kerouac and Salinger, and I can see how it could have achieved cult status for a certain generation, but plot-wise I found it more tedious than revelatory.
The novel takes place on the 22nd through 31st of December 1946: a total of 10 evenings, described over the course of 10 chapters. Twenty-three-year-old Frits van Egters lives with his parents, works at an office job, and spends his evenings wandering the streets of Amsterdam and visiting friends and relatives. Chapters generally begin with him waking up late (on a weekend) or leaving the office (on a weekday), and end with him falling asleep, only to sleep fitfully and wake up briefly between disturbing, symbolic dreams.
Frits is a mighty odd character. We are privy to his melancholy thoughts as well as to his often jokey speech. He swaps gruesome stories with his friends and seems obsessed with baldness and the elderly. He's constantly needling his male compatriots about possible signs of baldness and railing against the annoyances of old people – could it be that these are in fact his two key fears for himself? Everything his dull parents do irritates him, and even though it's the holiday season there are precious few signs of jollity. Even in a post-Christian European setting, I expected at least a few Christmas traditions to crop up.
The protagonist's self-absorption means he is generally immune to other people's problems, including his parents' seemingly troubled marriage and a friend's casual cruelty to his dog. Frits is selfish, yes, but mostly he's just tremendously bored. Lines capturing his ennui are among the best in the book:
'I just sit here and sit here and don't do a thing,' he thought. 'The day's half over.' It was a quarter past twelve.
'Why do I think that way?' he thought then. 'What right do I have to be so blasé?'
'I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it.'
'This day was empty,' Frits thought, 'I realize that.'
Anyone who has been stuck in a dead-end job, living with their parents in their mid-twenties, will sympathize with Frits's situation. I particularly enjoyed his dream sequences, like the one where he's trapped in a department store and can't find a toilet so has to urinate in a bunch of vases. But in general I found the novel's format repetitive and the 'profound' thoughts rather prosaic. Luckily, the final chapter, set on New Year's Eve, ends strongly. I had been worried that the miasma of meaninglessness would lead to a very dark conclusion, but instead Frits comes to a sort of epiphany – perhaps even in the religious sense of the word – that affirms his small life. This is an unusual book, but if the synopsis appeals to you or you just fancy trying a classic from another country's literature, you will find it an atmospheric wintry read.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Evenings: A Winter's Tale by Gerard Reve at Amazon.com.
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