The Divine Monster
A burlesque parable of mythical and festering Flanders written in a well-chosen and humorous style
In an interview Tom Lanoye once perfectly summed up the ambiguity of his attitude to the place of his birth: ‘Flanders fills me with great abhorrence and admiration: I write about the banal and sublime things I encounter here’. This paradox is reflected in the title of Lanoye’s latest novel: Het goddelijke monster. For Tom Lanoye, political wrongs and corruption function as a metaphor for human weakness, and in his work that weakness is called Belgium. The country is a ‘divine monster’ with many faces and the same can be said of the main character of Lanoye’s latest novel.
Katrien Deschrijver is stunningly beautiful and has always been exactly what other people wanted her to be. For one person she’s the embodiment of his dead daughter, for another she’s a sex kitten, for a third a mother: ‘And so her life moulded itself to fit the expectations of all who came into it. And there were plenty.’ One of the many is her husband, whom Katrien accidentally shoots dead in the book’s first and most burlesque scene. It’s not the only fatal accident on her conscience. As a divine mirror she reflects evil as well as beauty.
Her Dutch surname means ‘writer’ and it is a constantly embarrassing reminder of her incapacity to express herself. At the same time it is doubtful whether people would listen to her even if she could; after all, they see whatever they like in her. There is hardly any difference between the thoroughly corrupt members of Katrien’s family and the magistrate who is charged with investigating the fatal accidents. They are all bitter and driven by hate and jealousy. Love is absent or hidden away in dark rooms. Lanoye’s satirical, venomous tone expresses his contempt for the whole corrupt country or, rather, for its administrators and inhabitants. Because, just like Katrien, the country itself is an innocent mirror for the evil within man.