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In The Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

Often, when asked if what I’m reading is a good book I hesitate before answering, trying to decide what the asker really means. Do they mean is it exciting? Funny? Full of interesting characters? Recently, someone asked me that and when I hesitated they gave me this as a clarifier: Are you better off for having read it?. In this instance, yes. I think I am. However, despite coming away from this book with a strong positive feeling about it, it’s also left me a little befuddled.

In The Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Gina Garnett
Reviewed by Gina Garnett
Summary: Half fairy-tale and half confessional, these intertwined stories are beautifully written,
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: July 2013
Publisher: MacLehose Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1-78206-719-1

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The easiest way to describe In the Dutch Mountains is that there are two layers of book. The top layer is about Tiburón, a Spanish inspector of roads as he writes a modernised version (set in Holland) of the Snow Queen by Hans Andersen and ponders the complexities of life, writing and various other philosophical issues. The second layer is the fairy tale itself. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, a piece of the Snow Queen’s mirror gets into the eye of the male lead, causing him to become a cold-hearted person and bringing him into the clutches of the Queen. The female lead then sets out on a quest to find him and bring him home. In the original, these are children. In Tiburón's version, they are adults of unspoilable, impossible beauty.

The imagery rolling throughout the story – both stories – is outstanding. Not just the landscapes, which swing between the sweltering roads of Aragon in August to the stark mountains of southern Holland in the bleakest winter and are so real that you can feel the temperatures. Not just the characters, either, who you feel may be there if you turn around quickly enough to catch them. It’s the turn of phrase used through the whole text – my personal favourite being Stories are like roads. – and the loving way in which Nooteboom has approached describing every detail.

The narrative, too, is very intuitive. Not so much the plot line (of which there is little) but the way the thoughts are presented in just the way they are naturally thought, so although no concrete sense is made it is absolutely understandable. As I mentioned above, the book is quite philosophical, constantly contemplating abstract notions – the theory of fairy tales themselves, the words of Plato, religion, language. I’m left not knowing whether I agree with the author or not, or ever whether he agrees with himself. It is a strange book, but strange in a comforting way – as much of a paradox as that is.

This edition was translated by Adrienne Dixon.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy:

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Naomi Lewis and Christian Birmingham

Roads to Berlin by Cees Nooteboom and Laura Watkinson (Translator)

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Buy In The Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy In The Dutch Mountains by Cees Nooteboom at


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Mia Macrossan said:

Hi This book sounds really differerent and interesting but i am concerned about the 'stark Dutch mountains'. I'm from Limburg, the southernmost part of The Netherlands and there ain't no mountains here, stark or otherwise. I'll admit to some grassy cow-infested hills.

Kind regards

Mia Macrossan