Craving by Esther Gerritsen, translated by Michele Hutchison
5 stars – Highly Recommended by Kate
Publisher: World Editions
Released: Jan 2015
Guest review by Kate Vane
Some books draw you in with an intriguing premise, extraordinary characters or dramatic locations. I’m just as fascinated by writers who create something entrancing out of the everyday.
Craving is the story of an apparently ordinary family in an unnamed Dutch town. It begins when Elisabeth has a chance meeting in the street with her adult daughter, Coco. Elisabeth takes the opportunity to tell her some important news – she is dying.
The dark humour of the book is immediately apparent. Coco cycles away, filled with excitement at the news, calculating how she can manipulate it for her own ends. Elisabeth is left with an awkward sense that she hasn’t quite dealt with this as she should.
Elisabeth is described by her family as having autism. She struggles to negotiate the complexities of her relationships with her ex-husband and daughter. She feels more at ease with her hairdresser.
Coco soon moves back into her mother’s home. This is less an act of compassion than an attempt to provoke her boyfriend, whose interest in her is waning. When mother and daughter are thrown together, the tensions between them are highlighted. Coco constantly seeks sensation – overeating, sex in public, petty acts of destruction. Elisabeth longs for calm and order. Coco wants answers about her past but for Elisabeth the questions make no sense.
The author of Craving is also a playwright and this book has some of the feel of a stage play. It takes place in a small number of locations and the encounters between the characters are tightly drawn. Elisabeth’s inability to understand the dynamics of her family is at times poignant, at others funny and occasionally enviable. While those around her are weighted down with guilt and empathy, she is free to say what she thinks – with comic consequences.
However, the author also takes us deep into the characters. She shows the ways that Elisabeth and Coco have shaped each other. In particular, she gives us a sense of what it would be like to be Elisabeth – what she sees, what she fails to understand but also the perceptions she has that others lack – her faithful memory, her sense of the texture of things, the taste and scent of emotions and events.
I was almost afraid to get to the end. I didn’t want melodrama, but nor did I want another literary novel which is beautifully written but unresolved. I needn’t have worried. In keeping with the rest the end is subtle but startling.
Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End.