The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

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The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Set in the flat landscape of the Netherlands The Twin tells the story of an unwilling farmer and how, despite everything being against him, there might be hope for a better future. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099516873

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Helmer Van Wonderen never had any intention of being a farmer. He was already into his university studies in Amsterdam when his twin bother, Henk, was killed in a car accident. Henk was engaged to Riet and she was driving when the car ended up in Lake IJsselmeer and the unconscious Henk drowned. Helmer's father told Riet that he never wanted to see her again and Helmer was instructed that his studies were at an end. He was going to be a farmer – like it or not.

Helmer was the elder twin but he'd always been eclipsed by Henk, the younger by a few minutes. Their father never made any secret of his preference and Henk had always been more sociable, more popular. They'd been close to each other but cracks had formed in the relationship when Henk fell in love with Riet. Thirty years later Helmer, who never married, is a conscientious farmer and his father is an invalid reliant on Helmer for his most basic needs. His mother is dead.

The letter from Riet came from out of the blue. She eventually married after Henk's death, but is now a widow and assumes that Helmer's father is dead. They arrange to meet and Helmer doesn't disabuse her about his father, pointing upward to suggest that he has gone to meet his maker when in fact he is in the room upstairs. Riet wants her lazy teenage son, named after Helmer's dead twin, to come and live with Helmer on the farm and it's the story of his relationship with the younger Henk which is the crux of the book.

There's a magic about this book which is difficult to capture. The writing, wonderfully translated by David Colmer, is deceptively simple, with the human dramas contrasting sharply with the flat, unbroken landscape of the Netherlands. The humour is laconic and gentle. There are moments of deep tenderness and of stark brutality, visions of the psychological depths and, in the final part, a hope that, when all hope has passed, there might be a positive future.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

The book reminded me of Coetzee as his best or a more structured Michael Ondaatje, but given that this is a debut novel I think Gerbrand Bakker is a name to watch for in the future. You might also enjoy His Illegal Self by Peter Carey but The Twin is better.

Booklists.jpg The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker is in the Top Ten Books Not Originally Written In English.

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