Bart Moeyaert

It Is Love That We Don’t Understand

A highly sensitive and refreshing novel brilliantly unravelling love’s complexities

Can love still be the subject of a book? Bart Moeyaert proves to us that it can, and he does so in a highly original manner. In his novel Het is de liefde die we niet begrijpen he deals with it in a sensitive and refreshing way, expertly unravelling love’s complexities while at the same time leaving its mystery intact. Through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old girl, we witness the life of a broken family. In the first of the three stories which make up the book, entitled ‘The end of Bordzek told by myself who was there’, we plunge straight into a fierce family quarrel.

On a suffocatingly hot day, where the air ‘can be kneaded like dough’, the young storyteller, her little sister Edie, her older brother Axel, and her mother with her Polish boyfriend Bordzek, are driving through a cornfield in a boiling hot car. Suddenly Axel stops the car at the side of the road, and Bordzek tumbles out like a ‘sack of potatoes’. Axel is sick of his mother going through one boyfriend after another, never considering her family. Besides this, a secret is revealed in a manner both casual and shocking. A violent fight erupts in the heat. All survive intact. But the tone has been set.

The two following episodes are less stormy, but no less impressive. In the ‘The arrival of Bo’sun’ the family comes into grandma’s inheritance, which includes a dog and a man, Skip the Bo’sun. The girl imagines Skip with ‘the most amazing sideburns you’ve ever seen.’ In reality Skip turns out to be an old man confined to a wheelchair, whose arrival is greeted with horror by the mother, but warmly by the children: ‘At last a bit of peace with a man who wants nothing.’

In the final story ‘What do they do out there in Charlestown?’ the sisters think that Skip can only utter two sentences: ‘I’m leaving a dog’ and ‘I’ve built a tower’. But it quickly becomes clear that the old man, just like the two sisters, is able to put into words his feeling of loss for Axel. Axel has fled from home to go and live with his friend Mortimer in Charlestown. ‘What do they do out there in Charlestown?’ Skip asks out loud. The girl wants to know too and carries on imaginary conversations with Axel, in which she expresses her grief and sadness. At the end of the novel Skip’s dog howls piteously to the moon and the girl says: ‘We’re not exactly happy here yet. But it could be worse.’ Here is caution as well as enjoyment.

Moeyaert writes about horrors which people have become accustomed to and about sorrow which is too comical for words. If you cannot talk about something, it is better to keep silent. If you’re going to write about it then do so as suggestively as Moeyaert.

de Volkskrant

Moeyaert has built this novel around three small, very simple scenes. However, all three are emotionally highly charged due to his great subtlety as a storyteller. I am well past fifteen years old, but I am glad that this book has come my way.

Het Parool


Bart Moeyaert

Bart Moeyaert (b. 1964) enjoys great renown as an author of children’s novels and as a poet. In 2006 and 2007 he was the city poet of Antwerp, where he currently lives. All his novels, Duet met valse noten (Duet with False Notes), 1983, Kus me (Kiss Me), 1991, Blote handen (Bare Hands), 1995…

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Het is de liefde die we niet begrijpen (1999). Fiction, 96 pages.



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NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
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