Sensitive, reflective novel about the account of a past love and approaching death
On page one of En de liefste dingen nog verder, the book’s writer and main character who is approaching seventy, learns that he has leukaemia and has at most a year to live. He immediately decides to drop everything, in order to put his life on record in a new novel while there is still time. He introduces himself in the third person, but rapidly abandons this device and continues mainly in the first person. Here De Wispelaere is touching on a familiar theme of his: the interplay of fiction and reality.
The writer in the book has much in common with the author. As the jury report of the Grand Prize of Dutch Letters, recently awarded to De Wispelaere, points out, ‘writing as a specific form of living and self-fulfilment’ has been a major theme in his narrative work from the very beginning.
The writer attaches great importance to his house and garden in the Belgian countryside, where the changing seasons reflect his moods. When the crushing sentence is pronounced it is October, and decay and mortality are all around. Despite this, he evokes his past in lucid, supple prose, full of vital melancholy, interspersed with reflections on the present and letters to his most recent ex-lover Marlies. His relationships with women are important yardsticks and the tone gradually becomes increasingly bitter. Those were the times when the human condition played its worst tricks on him. He regrets the failure of his relationship with Marlies who now works as a photographer in Mexico, where he met her ten years ago.
Like a dying cat seeking solitude, the writer retreats into his house and garden. He savours his last upsurges of joie de vivre and is afforded a final glimpse of the future by Cathy, the young girl who cycles past his house daily on her way to school and occasionally visits him. For him she personifies the eternal beginning anew, that ‘delectable human insanity’. He takes a final trip with his ex-lover and, as his condition worsens, thinks about his will. Most of all he would like to write a personal account of the reception of all his books, but he lacks the time. Autumn is approaching, and his recorded life ends in a beautiful fantasy: a lavish book party where everyone can grab what they like and start new libraries: ‘… as when the seeds of trees are carried off and scattered by birds and the wind.’