Kind of England
Anker paints a lively portrait of modern times
Over the last few years, the poet, Robert Anker, has turned into a true novelist with his short stories and novellas. Right from the start he was ambitious. His debut, a novel running to almost 600 pages, described the turbulent life of Paul Masereeuw, a bent lawyer – and in the process painted an exuberant portrait of the baby-boom generation. On the face of it, Anker’s second novel, Een soort Engeland (A Kind of England), demonstrates a number of parallels with his debut.
Again, a lively portrait is painted of modern times, although he has – despite the consistently fanciful, outré style – kept it far more compact: this book is only half as thick. And again, the title of the novel, as with Vrouwenzand, which is named after the village in Zeeland where Paul Masereeuw had such a happy childhood, refers to a mythical place, paradise.
Een soort Engeland is, in a certain sense, the answer to the question in the title of a play, Is dit Engeland? (Is This England?), a chaotic, post-modern piece in which ‘a single man’ roams aimlessly, walking about the stage with a steering wheel in his hands, but no car. He sees himself caught up in a quest for a kind of England, ‘yearning for the love that he rejects’.
The main character in the play also plays the main part in the novel: he is David Oosterbaan, a fifty-three-year-old actor and, like Paul Masereeuw in Vrouwenzand, larger than life. David is successful, perhaps too successful: somewhere along the line he has lost track of his own personality among the hundreds of roles he has played, and ended up a hollow shell. Anker shows us David’s spectacular rise from surly tobacconist to stage star against the backdrop of the changing theatre world.
The novel begins in the void of the present day, but David is quickly forced to take stock of his past when he receives the message that his daughter, Laura, is seriously ill in hospital from a heroine overdose. David had banished his ‘little daughter’ from his memory and hadn’t seen her since her birth, thirty years before. Not without pathos – as befits an actor – he determines to rescue Laura from the clutches of the dealers and lead her back to ‘real life’. ‘If I rescue her, I rescue myself,’ he decides.
Meanwhile, there is another matter to attend to. To David’s dismay, Amsterdam city council is threatening to demolish his houseboat, as he is moored illegally. The mysterious Brian Reemnet turns out to be David’s ministering angel and able to achieve the miraculous. It is Brian who ultimately ‘rescues’ David Oosterbaan, towing him away, houseboat and all, with a towboat, perhaps to ‘a kind of England’. ‘Well,’ muses David in the last sentence of the book, ‘I’ve lost my tongue, lost my country, lost everything. But I’ve gained everything too,’ providing this whimsical novel, in which Robert Anker intertwines historical and fantastical elements, with a fairytale ending.