The Vondel Prize is a biannual award for works translated from Dutch into English. Last month Michele Hutchison was awarded the 2019 Vondel Prize for her translation of Sander Vollaard’s Stage Four.

This is a tragic case of retirement not going to plan.

Sarie and Barend had been looking forward to spending time travelling in their carefully chosen mobile home. But, on a short initial trip to the Ardennes, a sudden epileptic seizure takes Sarie unawares. The diagnosis is devastating. A metastasised brain tumour from primary lung cancer. Stage Four.

“There is no stage five.”

Following months of chemo, they decide to return to Öland in Sweden where they met many moons ago. Throughout this road trip, the realities of the current situation alternate with their memories. How they met, how they fell in love, how Barend taught Sarie to skim stones … This romanticism continually tempered with the practicalities of living with terminal disease.

The novel is written without sentimentality, and is particularly enlightening with regard to the points-of-view of both carer and partner: the frenzied but well-meaning search for effective, less invasive treatments on the part of carer, the resentment of the sick towards the healthy, the journey to the point when the sick say enough is enough – it’s time for quality not quantity.

There’s only one destination for Sarie. For Barend, this roadtrip is an opportunity to fulfill a promise made to his wife.

While it is educational, I wouldn’t call Stage Four a great literary novel, although there is a pleasing circularity in the plot. There are times when it gets bogged down in medical jargon, or even in geological minutiae. Because Sarie was a geography teacher, enamoured with the geology of Sweden’s archipelago. (An authorly fascination perhaps? Kollaard lives in Sweden.) As a text for translation, these specialisms must have presented a great challenge, one that Michele Hitchison conquers with well-deserved award-winning aplomb.

Related content: Meet The Translator here.