The Discomfort of the Evening
Intense, poetic debut about the daughter in a Godfearing family coming to terms with the loss of her brother
In this fine debut novel, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld forces us to look at exactly what is seen, felt and tasted, not from a distancing helicopter perspective, but from close up, breathtakingly close up. The Discomfort of the Evening takes the reader into an oppressive and repulsive world where detail is what matters.
Jas is mourning her dead brother, who drowned while skating. She is in the no-man’s-land between childhood and adulthood, and it is through her eyes that we see how the other members of her family deal with the loss. Jas feels totally misunderstood, she invokes her brother through strange rituals, she abandons herself to compulsive erotic games, she sees her parents as threatening, she resorts to torturing animals, she fantasises about God, she dreams of ‘the other side’ and of redemption. In short, the novel is about her vain attempt to be rescued.
We are not permitted to regard the intense adolescent Jas from a distance, as if observing some pathological case. No, we are deeply involved with her and we shudder. The novel is bursting with apt, sharp, gruesome, and sometimes funny images. Rijneveld lays everything bare.
Thank goodness for those funny images which give some relief and allow us to laugh! Broccoli florets are mini-Christmas trees, Jas’ mother’s withered breasts are like the collection bags in church. Rijneveld has written a daringly depressing novel, which can lead to sombre, self-pitying reflection. But what powerful writing, what a hunger for images, what a courageous writer.