Queen of Spades
A new, gripping masterpiece from an award-winning writer
Mensje van Keulen was lauded at the 2015 Constantijn Huygens award ceremony for the extraordinary technical mastery she exhibits in her work: “Every story is composed with precision and sensitivity; on the surface it may seem quite normal and everyday, but her quirky imagination always gives it an unexpected twist.” Her latest novel is no exception.
The approaching disaster is palpable in the very first sentence: “It was supposed to be one of those eminently forgettable nights I would have no memory of by the next day.” But that night, on TV in the home of Amsterdam gallery owner Paula and her husband Oscar, a well-respected notary, the Crime Stoppers programme shows the aftermath of an assault on an old couple, the elderly husband left for dead. From the police profile and the way the suspect was dressed, Paula immediately realizes it’s her own daughter, Emmy.
The discovery that her well-brought-up daughter has committed a crime takes her back to a dark period in her youth and a prediction by a mysterious healer and tarot card reader, Doctor Adami, which now appears to have come true: “Never have children, it could turn out extremely badly for you…” — a prophecy he confirmed by turning up the Queen of Spades. Paula had been introduced to Adami by her classmate, the androgynous, unsociable Charlie, and her manipulative brother, who managed to involve Paula in their morbid experiments and sexual fantasies, only to gang up on her in the end and play a crushing trick on her that would haunt Paula for the rest of her life.
Mensje van Keulen deftly pulls the reader into Paula’s life, marked by betray- als and humiliations behind a façade of respectability. Can her daughter really be that evil and ruthless? Are her husband’s property deals truly on the up and up? And isn’t Paula, who is hiding a secret of her own, at least as unreliable as they are? It appears that in the end Paula will not be able to escape the Queen of Spades’ curse.
As in the rest of her oeuvre, Van Keulen reveals herself in this book to be a master of concision. In only 136 pages, replete with sharp, often amusing observations and deliberately composed sentences, she takes merciless aim at her protagonist’s weaknesses. Once again, *Queen of Spades *makes clear how much impact a few carefully chosen words can have when they flow from the pen of a stylistic virtuoso like van Keulen.