The novel De ziekte van Middleton (Middleton’s Disease, 1969) by Gerrit Krol has a collage-like structure and an open ending. The neurosis from which afflicts its narrator and is far from cured at the end of the book, manifests itself in a fascination for pictures and films of women baring their ample bosoms in the pre-silicone age; his favourites among them are the all-natural boobs of Margaret Middleton. Twenty-seven years on, the fun has gone out of furtively buying and perusing sex books, now girlie mags are there for the taking on every newsstand.
‘Margaret Middleton is dead. I’m clean,’ proclaims the narrator Wouter van der Pijl in Middletons dood, a sequel to the earlier book, which can, however, be read completely independently. The pin-up has not entirely vanished from his life (indeed, he is in danger of meeting her on the Greek island of Aegina), but she is no longer an affliction. This also enables him to look back to the time when he was still a helpless victim of the neurosis. Krol tells the story of Van der Pijl’s marriage to Regina, which foundered on his passion for Middleton. As now emerges, she had a comparable idol: the American death-row prisoner Stanley P., whose release she, an expert in criminal law, hoped to secure.
With that new element Krol broadens the story of a man with a (widespread) affliction, into one with a universal theme. We get over the past by being able to look back at it and interpret it. But it is doubtful whether this helps us to explain ourselves any better. Thought trails behind action at a snail’s pace, and everyone is obviously pursuing their own private phantom, with loneliness as the reward. Wouter tells us about his life since Regina, when he travelled the globe for his job, moving from one woman to another. Finally he bumps into his ex-wife in Venice, and it emerges that she has also burned her fingers on her dream by actually visiting Stanley and escaping with him.
Krol’s barrage of humour, lightning transitions and unrelenting pace, make the reader fall about laughing. Only towards the end do we begin to ask whether the life described here is actually funny. A sinister underside is glimpsed through the humour, when Krol reunites the two former partners, without their becoming any closer. In so doing he elevates the comedy of a relationship to a superior level.