I read Tim Krabbé’s The Vanishing last year, and so I’m back for more in Delay. The Vanishing (which was made into a film) was the creepiest, most disturbing book I’d read in a long time. It’s the tale of a young Dutch couple who head to France for a holiday, they stop to get petrol, the woman goes to get some drinks … and vanishes. The rest of the book delves into her boyfriend’s attempts (and inability) to deal with his life in light of the incident and the mystery of what happened. The Big Question here: how far would you go to know the truth? How high a price would you be prepared to pay to know the fate of someone who vanished?
So … in some ways, there’s a connection between The Vanishing and Delay–although Delay is NOT creepy, not disturbing. Delay is, however, about obsession, and continuing a relationship that’s inherently bad for you. In some ways, Delay reminded me of Pascal Garnier’s The Islanders. Both books concern a man and a woman who reconnect after years of silence, and in spite of those long years, those old relationships sink right back into their toxic, unhealthy grooves.
In Delay, Dutch writer and quiz show host Jacques Bekker, on an international cultural trip, leaves New Zealand, flies to Sydney and finds that his plane to Singapore is delayed. Here he is in Sydney, so why not go look up his old girlfriend Monique, a woman he knew thirty years earlier, and see what she’s doing these days. After all, what harm can it do? …
Well a lot of harm as it turns out. Telling his traveling companions that he has “a demon to drive out,” Bekker separates from the group and heads out to find Monique. He’s kept track of her over the years, from a distance, and so he reenters her life.
At first glance, Monique appears to have done well for herself. She’s “Madame Twenty,” and runs an immense, successful business empire. She lives in an affluent neighbourhood, but when Bekker first sees Monique, she’s frantically packing suitcases into her car:
And he recognized her, or actually it was the other way around: it was as though he was back in Ostend, and from there was being allowed to look into this distant future. So this woman, with her chic white summer dress, who must be fifty or fifty-one, who had black hair instead of blonde, was playing the role of Monique Ilegems as older woman?
Bekker knows Monique well enough to realize that something is wrong: “Something unusual had happened right before he showed up.” Monique finishes loading her car, opens the passenger door, and Bekker gets in. And so it begins. …
Bekker finds himself on the run with Monique. Soon he’s swapping out cars, aiding and abetting her escape, and even though he realizes that “she was using him. Just like back then,” he slides back into his previous relationship with Monique
It was as though he had boarded a ship that was sailing out of a harbor.
The rest of the book follows Bekker and Monique on the run, spiraling into one disaster after another as they careen across Australia until finally there is nowhere left to hide. Underneath the plot, there’s the idea that the force of one person’s character can completely swarm and dominate the will of another human being. The relationship between Bekker and Monique is a paler version of serial killer teams in which one of the pair keeps psychological control of the other, with the weaker one needing the power and control of the stronger partner and the stronger partner needing the obedience of the weaker partner. There are several moments when Bekker experiences a thrill at his almost hallucinatory journey, of giving up control, and Monique’s life, which has taken a down slide, becomes an exciting adventure with Bekker at her side and obeying her demands. Yes a murder does occur in this book, and it’s another step in Bekker’s trip to hell.
Delay isn’t as good as The Vanishing but I still enjoyed it.
Translated by Sam Garrett