Fenrir: A Long Weekend in the Ardennes
A thrilling and dark tale of wolves and murder
Hella Haasse’s popularity with a wide range of readers may have contributed to her not being included in the list of great post-war Dutch authors; nevertheless she does deserve a place among the likes of Claus, Hermans and Mulisch. Regardless of the genre in which she writes, she has always remained herself, always driven by a certain inquisitiveness and astonishment about the world around us. That world has often been a world of the past, such as that of Charles D’Orléans in In a Dark Wood Wandering, or colonial pre-war Batavia (now Indonesia), which is described so beautifully in Heren van de thee (The Tea Merchants). The main characters are often writers or poets, who are in their own way outsiders.
Hella Haasse is still remarkably active. In 1994, she published the novella Transit, which had a circulation of many hundreds of thousands as a free gift during the Dutch book week. In 1997, Zwanen schieten (Shooting Swans) appeared: an ingenious cocktail of an essay on writing and imagination, an autobiographical sketch and fiction. And this year brought a new novel Fenrir, a crime novel with a dark undertone.
‘Matthias Crone had gone to the concert on 25 September because he had read that the pianist kept wolves in her back garden,’ reads the first, infectious sentence of the novel. Ever since he was a young boy, Matthias had been interested in wolves and the associated North European mythology. It turns out that this pianist is keeping a private wolf reserve in the Ardennes. Matthias goes there with his friend Rollo, to be adopted by the inhabitants of the estate who all have their own secrets. There is a peculiar tension, which ultimately leads to murder. The shadow of the past casts a disturbing spell on the whole affair. Fenrir is more than a thrilling book: it is also a sinister look at the nocturnal side of existence.