The Vanishing: Tim Krabbe

“Smooth as spaceships, the cars full of tourists moved south down the long, wide turnpike. Evening fell over the wavy landscape bordering the Autoroute du Soleil and turned it violet.”

Tim Krabbé’s The Vanishing, made into a film of the same name, is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read, so this novella is recommended if you don’t mind turning the last page and feeling disturbed.

The Vanishing

Rex and Saskia are heading out on their holidays from Holland to France. They have a house booked in Hyères, but it’s a long drive. The drive brings grievances in the relationship to the surface; Rex paid for Saskia’s driving lessons, but she “almost never drove,” and this nettles Rex.

During the past hour their mood had grown prickly. Saskia had to put her knitting aside twice in ten minutes because Rex asked to have an orange peeled and she dropped the second one on the floor.

“Ohh! It fell! Ohh!” she said.

She’s doing that on purpose, Rex thought, but he said nothing.

The car’s fuel gauge isn’t working, and that is a point of contention between the couple. Even though they know they have enough fuel to get to their destination, Rex decides to stop and fill up the car. The broken fuel gauge is a silent reminder of the time when the car ran out of fuel, and Saskia was left alone, terrified, on a dark highway for hours while Rex struck out for petrol.

But the stop lightens the mood. The car is tanked up, and then Saskia decides to step back into the station to get some drinks. Rex waits by the car, and Saskia … never returns. …

The book picks up 8 years later. Rex seems to have moved on and he’s now ready to marry, but the past lingers. He remembers how, as a child, Saskia once dreamt that she was “locked inside a golden egg that flew through the universe. Everything was pitch-black, there weren’t even any stars, she’d have to stay there forever, and she couldn’t even die. There was only one hope. Another golden egg was flying through space. If it collided with her own, both would be destroyed, and everything would be over.” He remembers how when Saskia left his apartment and rode off on her bike, he’d keep her in his sight for as long as he could.

But do you know what the worst thing is? It’s not knowing. Standing by the door with two sodas, and zip, gone! As if someone had decided that her atoms didn’t belong together anymore. To have lost her makes sense, but not this not knowing. That is unbearable. You can play all kinds of mind games. For instance, I am told that she is alive and somewhere and perfectly happy. And I’m given a choice: she goes on living like that, or I get to know everything and she dies. Then I let her die.

The Vanishing, and the term could be a verb or a noun here, shows Rex as someone who cannot move on from Saskia’s disappearance. He harbours guilt, but he also harbours a gnawing feeling of needing to know what happened to Saskia, a vibrant young woman who is spirited away in front of dozens of witnesses. As long as Rex doesn’t know Saskia’s fate, there’s the possibility, however remote, that she could be alive. The author mines this need with the plot which follows Rex’s efforts to go as far as the truth takes him.

It’s been a long time since I saw the film, but the imprint left on my mind is the relationship between Rex and Saskia. For the book, I see a connection between the man responsible for Saskia’s disappearance and Rex: both men want to launch out in an experiment, a compulsion if you will.

A chilling, disturbing read.

Translated from Dutch by Claire Nicolas White.

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17 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Krabbé Tim

17 responses to “The Vanishing: Tim Krabbe

  1. I didn’t realise the films were based on this novella. The Dutch original (think it was Dutch, like the author) was far better than the cheesy Hollywood remake.

  2. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film. I don’t want to rewatch it as .. well I know what happens. The book was good though if you are interested.

  3. Ah, the long transhumance of Dutch tourists during the summer. 🙂

    Something feels wrong “The broken fuel gauge is a silent reminder of the time when the car ran out of fuel, and Saskia was left alone, terrified, on a dark highway for hours while Rex struck out for petrol.”
    That’s not possible in Europe. There are patrolemn on highways that will reach you very quickly, given the size of the countries. There aren’t long stretches of highways in the middle of nowhere.

    That aside, I’m not sure I’m in the mood for creepy and if you’ve been disturbed by it with your extensive experience of crime fiction, this one must be something.

  4. I’ve not read the book but the film is pretty disturbing too. His novella The Rider is a brilliant depiction of what it is like to be a long distance cyclist and has a bit of a cult following. I read it a few years back and it has stayed with me.

  5. This sounds very tempting too. Or is the kind of disturbing Ian McEwan wrote in The Comfort of Strangers? I hated that, but this souds different. The movie sounds slightly familiar as well.

  6. I vaguely recall reading about The Vanishing. You’ve made it sound eerily tempting…

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