Time once more to focus in on Dutch literature as Iris kicks off Dutch Literature Fortnight. And I’m starting with a book that I fully expect to take my Best of 2013 Black Comedy award … although really I should not be laughing.

Winner Dutch Audience Award 2009
Translated by Sam Garrett (Interviewed here.)

4 adults meet for dinner in a swanky restaurant. Two brothers and their wives. The elder brother is a politician, well-known, used to calling the shots. His younger brother, the narrator, resentful of all that brings with it. It soon becomes clear that this is no recreational appointment – there is something unpleasant that the two families must confront ..

…. a deeply disturbing crime committed by their children. (And one based on a real case.)

The criminals thus far remain unidentified by the police, and, indeed, the narrator isn’t even sure if his wife knows. He is sure, however, that his brother, the politician, does know and has decided that the time is nigh for decisive action.

So, as they take their seats and procrastinate their way through the courses, continually interrupted by the maître d’hôtel and his high-faluting upselling of the dishes served,

These are Greek olives from the Peloponnese, lightly doused in first-pressing, extra-virgin olive oil from Sardinia, and polished off with rosemary ….

undercurrents exert their drag, nerves begin to fray and barely concealed animosities surface. When the politician, supremo of the dramatic public gesture, reveals his intentions, all hell breaks loose.

Interwoven with the conversation at table is the history of what has been happening at home since the awful event – all from the viewpoint of the narrator. Turns out, in his preoccupation to protect his wife, he unwittingingly developed a blind spot and that the wives aren’t attending this dinner to simply provide polite conversation.

And in an another twist on people not being what they seem, the ever-increasing polarised views of the narrator give more than one pause for thought.

I started this review suggesting that its subject is no laughing matter. That’s certainly true but the narrative voice is so superbly jaundiced, outraged and entertaining that it’s impossible not to. Neither have I ever had my moral compass so thoroughly subverted. How far would you go to protect the ones you love? asks the front cover. Think you know? Read this and think again!

4stars

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