Nostalgia for a paradise that never was
In an interview last year Nelleke Noordervliet said that she had always felt an outsider since childhood. It is no accident that the tension between withdrawal and commitment has been a major constant in the work of this prominent Dutch novelist. In Uit het paradijs too the narrator struggles with the conflicting need for a reclusive life free of family ties and his desire to engage actively with his role as a son, brother and father.
When on his father’s death the fifty-year-old David Berk inherits the house in the dunes where he has spent his childhood, he has a vision of his mother - dead for thirty years - who offers him a lift in her Dyna Panhard 1952. This is the start of an ingeniously constructed family drama, in which dream, hallucination and reality are wonderfully interwoven.
David Berk was nine years old when he was expelled from the paradisial solitude of the house in the dunes. His mother - a defenceless, seductive Marilyn Monroe-like figure with a yearning for love - left his father, a cinema manager, for a Walloon rubber tycoon in the hope that this would give her an entry into the world of big money, happiness and glamour. Nothing could be further from the reality. The two na? ‘Hollanders’ find themselves in a narrow-minded Catholic family in Brussels, which has its own internal scores to settle and systematically blocks any attempts at rapprochement by the newcomers. David is quickly transformed from a pampered Mummy’s boy into an observant odd-man-out, hiding behind a mask of cynicism that he never loses. His mother, at the mercy of latent family rivalries, lacks the inner strength to escape her inevitable tragic fate.
Uit het paradijs, within the apparently restricted framework of a family drama, Nelleke Noordervliet has succeeded in broaching universal themes: loyalty and betrayal, passion and madness, rivalry and jealousy, the loss of illusions. It is a novel about the unforgiving game of attraction and repulsion, the eternal tug-of-war between feeling and intellect, family ties, love and religion. A novel which indirectly asks the question to what extent one is responsible for one’s own destiny and that of one’s children.