Magnificent and award-winning return of the celebrated author
During the 1990s, Jeroen Brouwers published no new works of fiction. In his masterpiece, the voluminous De zondvloed (The Deluge; 1988), the author demonstrated his mastery in devising staggering literary constructions. ‘I had become a slave to my own literary ideology,’ Brouwers explained in a recent interview. ‘Everything had to be constructed, ornate, stratified, every detail had to have some sort of function.’
In his new novel, Brouwers’s style is remarkably light. Despite the fact that the novel deals with adultery, betrayal and deceit, Brouwers has managed to clothe the story in sparkling prose. Somewhere in the book, the comparison is made with ‘opera buffa’. What are the dramatic events in Brouwers’s comic opera? The main character, Jelmer van Hoff, meets his erudite university friend, Nico Sibelijn and his wife, Daphne, at a funeral. Jelmer, who has been stuck for years in an unhappy marriage, falls madly in love with his old friend’s wife. He writes her passionate letters, but is gradually lured into a labyrinth of deceit and treachery. For Daphne, adultery is like a secret room: ‘As long as Nico was unaware of her secret, it was as if there was no secret. That which is unknown does not exist.’
The elaboration of the metaphor of ‘secret rooms’ demonstrates Brouwers’s undiminished skill as a master of composition. The affair between Jelmer and Daphne proves simply to be a cloak for the real extramarital love that Daphne cherishes for a third man. By the time this last room has been opened, Jelmer has seen his own marriage hit the rocks. He is left penniless in a small flat with his young, mentally handicapped daughter. Nevertheless, Geheime kamers does not leave the reader feeling despondent. Jelmer’s irony and self-deprecating humour keep him on his feet. In essence he is a real old-fashioned hero who stands up to the dramatic events that life sends his way.