The Men’s Meal
A gripping psychological novel about erotic obsession and euthanasia
This novel – about parenthood, being an observer, failure and infidelity – centres on three characters who each yearn to live without compromise, Ben to be uncompromising in his art, Wout in his desire to do what is right, and Eva wanting to love two men at once. But their ideals clash with reality, a reality that seems to be all about what is and isn’t permitted – at the hospital, in personal relationships.
Rinske Hillen’s second novel opens with Wout standing over the grave of artist Ben Roovers, his romantic rival. Though Wout is responsible for Ben’s death, he ‘does not feel like a murderer’. From here we go back in time watch the drama slowly unfold. When Eva goes to interview Ben in his studio, they immediately hit it off. It turns out they were involved a long time ago, before Eva got married. She succumbs to her desire for him but finds herself wrestling with her conscience.
Her husband Wout is a doctor. TThough good at his job, his public advocacy for euthanasia for newborn babies who are suffering unbearably makes him a controversial figure. The media call him ‘the man who thinks he’s God’. While he is struggling with the case of a several-weeks-old baby with pemphigus vulgaris, a rare and serious blistering condition that causes the skin to peel off, Eva is continuing to visit Ben, falling once more under his spell.
A cynical misfit painter, almost cartoonishly masculine, who tries to triumph over life by painting like a maniac, and an intelligent woman who falls head-over-heels in love with him – they seem to be from a different era.
Wout overcomes his normally detached nature to seek direct confrontation with Ben, which culminates in a scene in which the two men play a game of chess, joust verbally with each other, make a deal and then have dinner – the meal of the book’s title: the scene is as surprising as it is gripping. Rinske Hillen digs unflinchingly in frozen ground to unearth the normally inaccessible.