Nominated for the 2017 Dublin Literary Award by Utrecht Library
Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison
Elisabeth is a long-time divorceé. Her only daughter, Coco, lived with her ex-husband and his second wife, and, as a result the mother-daughter relationship is far from close. Yet when Elisabeth is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she feels impelled to cross the street and blurt out the news to her daughter. Coco, for her part, then feels impelled to move in to care with her mother.
But this is going to be a far from cozy nursing tale, for both women are complex creatures. Elisabeth has never really got over the divorce; her ex-husband being the love of her life, not her daughter, who she felt was detrimental to their relationship. As a result she was a distanced mother, with parenting methods that would not be approved of today. Nor does Coco appprove of them in her adulthood, remembering some incidents and taking her mother to task, only when prompted by the ex-husband.
Elisabeth’s view of this is that Coco didn’t mind when she was younger, why should she mind now? Not that we can believe Elisabeth, as she has no empathy for others, and there is that disturbing incident when Coco at the age of 5 purposely drove her bicycle through the window ….
The child becomes a woman with issues. She is fat – emphasised multiple times in the text- and she is needy. She knows her boyfriend is going to leave her. He’s a psychologist and does not approve of her moving in with mother. And Coco is desperate to hold onto him. She craves for something to fill her emotional needs – Hans (the boyfriend), alcohol, casual sex with strangers …. Hans is right when he says moving in with Elisabeth is a bad move. It precipitates a psychological unravelling in Coco which mirrors the physical unravelling of Elisabeth.
The story is told in sections alternating between Elisabeth’s and Coco’s points-of-view, a structure which accentuates the disconnect between mother and daughter. The Dutch title Dorst means thirst, and there are a number of motifs running throughout highlighting Coco’s thirst for love, respect, good favour, and, unfortunately, alcohol and other acts of self-sabotage. In places, particularly when Coco goes right off the rails, it was too sexually graphic for me, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed this unsentimental emotional drama.