J.J. Voskuil

The A.P. Beerta Institute (The Bureau 4)

The fourth volume of Voskuil’s The Bureau: the Dutch counterpart of the Great American Novel

Interest in the megalomaniac novel cycle Het Bureau, is starting to assume unprecedented proportions. The appearance of the fourth part of the ‘world’s longest novel’ was a major news item and people rushed to the bookshops to pick up their copy of the latest volume. Readers who have followed Maarten Koning, Voskuil’s alter ego, through the first three volumes find themselves hooked on Koning’s melancholy musings, his acuteness and his merciless descriptions of his colleagues.

Many people are no doubt shocked and amused to recognise situations from their own workplace. What makes Het Bureau so special? For a start, of course, its sheer size. In no other novel is the daily routine at work described at such length. ‘This book couldn’t be any shorter,’ said Voskuil in an interview. ‘When you work in an institute like mine, it takes a long time to get to know everyone. Everyone is so identified with their role that really dramatic events don’t occur. Only after years does everyone gradually emerge as an individual. It’s only in the details that you make discoveries.’

Voskuil is right. In the seven volumes that will eventually make up the cycle, every little wave, every ripple is described so tellingly that the reader is never bored. The grating repetitions, typical gestures and expressions - as in a soap opera - have a hypnotic effect. Voskuil’s penetrating style fits in perfectly with the ethos of the Office: unadorned and scholarly precision. It is the combination of size and detail that enables the reader to experience both the humour and the underlying tragedy of Maarten Koning. Het A.P. Beerta-instituut, the fourth volume, also forms a chronicle of the 1970s and the way that the changes in society in this decade are commented upon by the people at the Bureau.

At the same time all these elaborate rituals typify the hopelessness of Maarten Koning’s life and work. Even though he does not believe in the value of scholarly research, he sees it as his duty to stay, finish his work and maintain the illusion of solidarity with his colleagues. All is futile. Het bureau is a profoundly comical, detailed and moving depiction of that world of bosses and wage slaves which ultimately imprisons everyone.

What makes the novel so special is the way it magnifies human failing. The Bureau is the universe in a pocket edition, an allegory for society. The fact that there is still plenty to laugh at, mainly because of the sublime style and the often comic dialogue, makes human fate bearable.

Jury Report Libris Literature Prize 1997

Voskuil’s ambitions are unparalleled. If the mythical great American novel is supposed to be the portrait of an age as well as the mirror of the soul, then you could call Het Bureau its Dutch counterpart.

NRC Handelsblad

Het Bureau is solid as a rock.

de Volkskrant


J.J. Voskuil

J.J. Voskuil (1926-2008) stands alone in Dutch literature. In 1963 he published Bij nader inzien (On Second Thoughts), a twelve-hundred-page novel which describes with photographic precision the lives of a group of students in Amsterdam between 1946 and 1953. For thirty-three years Voskuil was a…

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Het A.P. Beerta Instituut (Het Bureau 4) (1998). Fiction, 982 pages.
Copies sold: 25,000


G.A. van Oorschot

Herengracht 613
NL - 1017 CE Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 623 14 84
Fax: +31 20 625 40 83


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