An amoral fairytale
There was a great to-do surrounding the publication of De geschiedenis van mijn kaalheid (The Story of my Baldness, 2000), the debut of Marek van der Jagt. It was supposed that the literary jack-of-all-trades, Arnon Grunberg, was the real author behind the name, and this indeed turned out to be the case. Grunberg likes literary disguises and games; the same is true for Van der Jagt, witness his second novel Gstaad 95-98. In it François Lepeltier makes a confession –‘a catalogue of necessary and less necessary sins’– about the way he landed in prison.
But they are indispensable, at least for Lepeltier for whom sin is closely linked to chance and pleasure. ‘Where there is sinning, there is pleasure.’ And sin is ubiquitous in Gstaad 95-98, presented as the world of ‘the unsavory’: a reversal of prevailing norms and values that are not an anomaly but the essence of existence.
Lepeltier grows up in hotels where his mother Mathilde works as a maid and supplements her salary by stealing from the guests. Mother and son have an almost incestuous relationship. The Ceccherelli couple initiate Mathilde and François in their unsavory sexual practices. People smell one another, open each others buttocks wide in order to look into their bowels. François licks his mother’s urine.
Van der Jagt describes an animalistic, perverse world that is hidden behind glamorous façades. According to François ‘a principle is nothing more than petrified stupidity.’ Later he poses as a dentist who causes Kurdish refugees more pain than they had before, and he finally ends up as the Monster of Gstaad, the kidnapper and murderer of ten-year-old Olga–and this finishes him. Gstaad 95-98, like any picaresque novel, holds a mirror up to the reader–a deformed, grotesque mirror, for in the seriousness of the intent the reader might forget how witty the book is, how cleverly the story is told.