Author

Willem Jan Otten

Willem Jan Otten (b. 1951) is a poet, essayist, and playwright in addition to being a novelist, and his novels are confessional. He made his poetry debut with the collection Een zwaluw vol zaagsel (A Swallow Full of Sawdust, 1973, Reina Prinsen Geerligs Prize). Subsequent collections include Ik zoek het hier (I Look for It Here, Herman Gorter Prize 1981) and Paviljoenen (Pavilions, Jan Campert Prize 1992).
In his debut novel De man van horen zeggen (A Man from Hearsay, 1984), the sorrow of a man in mid-divorce who knows he is indispensable gathers pace when it emerges that the narrator has died. De wijde blik (The Broad Outlook, 1992, short-listed for the ako Literature Prize) is the confession of an adulterous spouse who in the end is himself deceived. His next novel, Ons mankeert niets (Nothing Wrong With Us, 1994), is the speech of a doctor who has just heard that he has to appear before a disciplinary committee for allowing his predecessor to commit suicide.
Het museum van licht, (The Museum of Light, 1991) and the much-praised De letterpiloot (The Letter Pilot, 1993) are essay collections, the first of which is dedicated to cinema. His novel Specht en zoon (Specht and Son, 2004) has been awarded the Libris Literary Prize 2005.

The Poetry of Willem Jan Otten

(G.A. van Oorschot, )

Willem Jan Otten has a preference for programmatic titles. His first volume of poetry in 1973, for example, is titled Een zwaluw vol zaagsel - roughly translated, ‘A Swallow Stuffed with Sawdust’, an image which epitomises his early work. By selecting a single aspect of the natural world and fixing it in verse, the poet takes his lead from nature whilst never losing sight of the fact that his own work, once created, can no longer change.

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Nothing Wrong with Us

(G.A. van Oorschot, 1994, 197 pages)

Euthanasia is the heated subject of a current discussion in the Dutch parliament, the courts and the media. Under which conditions should it be allowed? Is it already being tacitly allowed? Where should we draw the line? In this engaging novel, the renowned writer and essayist Willem Jan Otten makes his contribution to the debate. He believes that one cannot be too cautious in deciding about euthanasia. In his eyes, death and the awe and mystery surrounding it are taboos that need to be upheld, even in the permissive Netherlands.

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Specht and Son

Specht and Son

(G.A. van Oorschot, 2004, 142 pages)

In Willem Jan Otten’s new novel Specht and Son the canvas tells the story rather than the young painter Felix Vincent who has accepted a bizarre commission. On the very first page the canvas, ‘10 1 . 2 oz. linen preprimed’, measuring 120 x 200 cm, wonders: ‘How on earth can a mere canvas covered with paint be tragic?’ The story that follows answers this question. The canvas witnesses Vincent, called ‘Creator’, being asked by the fabulously wealthy art collector Specht to paint his adopted son Singer. So far nothing special. But there is a catch: Singer is no longer alive. ‘Paint my son,’ says Specht to Creator. ‘Make him alive. Forget his death.’

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