A fascinating literary thriller about an infamous widow of a World War II collaborator
Where does innocence end and complicity begin? In De ordening the author is concerned with the tension between Good and Evil. The main character, Stella, is a recent philosophy graduate, unemployed and living in a poor Amsterdam neighbourhood. She has no career plans, partner, ideals or ambitions, and her relationship with her divorced parents is limited to a few phone calls a year. She is the personification of modern rootlessness and feels alienated from the absurd world around her, in which she wishes to take no part.
Hence she has no moral scruples about accepting a job sorting out the private archive of the infamous Black Widow, the wife of the collaborator Ewald de Heus Verolmen, who died in 1945. This woman has conceived the plan of writing her version of events. She shows great similarities with the widow of Dutch Nazi leader Rost van Tonningen, who in 1990 was actually convicted for publishing her racist memoirs. But this historical reality is no more than a springboard for Van Beijnum: Stella spends months sorting through the widow’s papers and stacks the archive boxes into a great pyramid. When the work is finished the widow orders her to burn everything, since the reality she finds in the documents does not accord with her own, personally-coloured memories.
What applies to the yellowing papers applies equally to the characters. None of them is what they pretend to be. The widow, in Stella’s eyes an elegant, kind old lady whom she comes to like, turns out to be the real driving force behind the fascist thinking of her scholarly but idealistic husband. Ironically, the only letter that reveals this escapes the flames. Then there is the mysterious Andreas, who is living on the estate and claims to be the son of a former German lover of the widow. Stella falls for his gift for storytelling, in which – as in Van Beijnum’s own narrative – truth and lies, semblance and reality merge imperceptibly. Both Stella and the widow, who up to the last believes she is in complete control, eventually fall victim to Andreas’ ability to pull the wool over other people’s eyes.
Van Beijnum is a master at piling on suspense, adding characters who complicate the plot and increasingly fascinate the reader. The slightly melancholy style is perfectly suited to the tragic, rather enigmatic atmosphere of the book. It makes De ordening an intriguing novel, in which all is not finally revealed, leaving ample scope for the reader’s imagination to take flight.