Madly in Love
A new collection from the highly-praised Flemish writer: elegant stories about budding sexuality
Geertrui Daem comes from Alost and has often been compared to her home town’s most famous literary son, the great Flemish writer Louis Paul Boon. The two writers have more in common than just geography. Like Boon she uses undiluted Flemish idiom in her stories. Her claustrophobic atmosphere, merciless portraits of graceless characters and all-permeating sexuality also recall his work. Daem’s seemingly carefree stories sketch the tragedy hidden behind the facade of everyday life.
In an interview the writer once said that in rereading her adolescent diaries she was struck by the pure, direct way she was able to express her thoughts as a child, and by the fact that the thoughts had meanwhile lost none of their power. It seems these diaries have now inspired her to write her latest collection, Zotverliefd. In three of the four stories children take the stage: seven-year-old Els, thirteen-year-old Ines and seventeen-year-old Erna. These three girls laconically observe the misery in which they are growing up: their parents’ eternal quarrelling, the half-understood carry-on called sex, and such tragedies as madness and suicide.
Despite their dire circumstances, the girls Daem describes have their feet firmly on the ground. In ‘Away with the thief who eats all our croissants!’ the half-sisters Ines and Nina are especially combative, angry at ‘Mama’s lover’, threatened by the fact that their mother sleeps with him. Like many of Daem’s stories, this one revolves around the loss of innocence, a rough initiation into the dark side of life.
The puzzling nature of adult sexuality is shown by Els’s lucid and funny conversations with the boy next door: ‘“How’s a baby supposed to get into its mother’s stomach then?” she asked in a know-it-all voice. If not through the Grace of God, she added silently.’ Her naivety contrasts sharply with her parents’ mistrustfulness. One of their sermons leaves her wondering if seven-year-old whores exist. The title story is about another kind of lost innocence. Erna is madly in love with Bert but has to give up her dreams when Bert is admitted to a psychiatric clinic. Love is no solution in the cheerless world Daem describes. The down-to-earth girls in these stories seem able to cope with life on their own.