The Book Club
by Marjolijn Februari
Translation by Paul Vincent.
Marjolijn Februari studied Art History, Philosophy and Law and was awarded a doctorate for a thesis on the clash of economics and ethics. So it is no surprise that THE BOOK CLUB, her second novel, is the thinking book group's book. In fact, it should be the thinking book groups' Book of the Year. And the well-read book group will probably appreciate the literary allusions and quotations with which it is peppered. This book cleverly illustrates one essential value of fiction: the freedom to reference international rogues and hypocrites. Fictional characters can think and say what they will, and in her enigmatic and cryptic account of human trial and error, of the European predicament and good old love and marriage, Februari takes full advantage of that. With honed wit and masterly dialogue she rages against that most endearing of Dutch characteristics - the Protestant work ethic - when it is manipulated and abused by international, globalised, hypocritical wheelers and dealers.
The cast of THE BOOK CLUB is fascinating. The juvenile lead, Victor Herwig, is foreign correspondent to a national Dutch newspaper. Back from Africa, with sun bleached hair and khaki trousers with fourteen pockets, his interest is caught by an ecstatic review of a new novel which in three months has run through fifteen editions and has been sold in umpteen different languages. It is an autobiographical tragicomedy about a young girl's experiences in a mental hospital and Victor is intrigued to realise that the author is a mouse-quiet girl, Ruth Ackermann, with whom he had shared a class room for six years. Out of mild interest, he drives out to his childhood village, and there he accidentally meets another co-pupil, Teresa Pellikaan, who still lives in this middle class, charming, enlightened Dutch village.
Everyone in the village knows at least an MEP or a lady-in-waiting, and the most characteristic aspect of the area is the ingenious interplay of virtue and a talent for business with the advent of the very latest technology. Teresa is more beautiful than ever. From her teeth, her hair, her bag, her watch, her shoes and even her pen, it is clear that she is either very successful or very married. She remembers Victor as the boy at the front of the class who used to make a fuss about the injustice in the world. She cannot remember Ruth Ackermann at all. She and Victor lunch together in the restaurant in the park of the nineteenth century castle at the edge of the village. It is a warm early summer day, and under the chestnut trees in the park, a peacock crosses the grass with small, indignant steps.
There are so many unexpected and interesting characters in this novel, and they are portrayed with such skill, that this reviewer could go on and on. But, writes Februari, a novelistís job is to entertain, and THE BOOK CLUB is nothing if not entertaining. It is an excellent novel, essential reading for the eclectic and erudite book group. Best discussed over a glass of good wine, I should think.