Tag Archives: dutch crime fiction

Tim Krabbé: Delay

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.

Delay

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

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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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