The story is set on the threshold of a new year, a cold windy New Year’s Eve. Two bosom friends, Ward and Bernie, have spent the day in an emotional conflict with themselves and the angry outside world. What began as a silly game-running away from an angry neighbour-escalated into a drama. Either by accident or design, Ward has killed a duck belonging to neighbour Betjeman, who, out of fury or grief, uses his artificial hand to do something really horrible to Ward’s dog. Although there are lots of indications that there is something seriously wrong with the dog, it is a long time before Ward can bring himself to recognise that his Elmer is dead.
In the description of landscape, temperature and sounds, and in the half-conversations carried out between Ward and his friend, the motives and the background to this drama gradually float to the surface. Ward is afraid that the hated neighbour wants to take the place of his father and will turn his mother into a giggling girl. In reality, however, Betjeman is just a lonely, mistrustful farmer who lost his hand on an earlier New Year’s night while lighting a firework. Both Ward’s and Betjeman’s actions arise from a distorted image of the other.
Because the events are rarely narrated in chronological order the reader becomes gradually part of the mystery that Bernie and Ward keep locked away inside themselves, and of the friendship between the two boys ‘who together are one pair of shoes’. All the characters in the story-the boys, their mothers and Betjeman himself-long for safety, for security, a hot meal, the familiar rituals. They have no words for this, only actions. But these are just as irreversible as time. The two animals are irrevocably. There is nothing more to be done. And so the new year bursts forth. Time and surroundings effectively back up the choices that people make. You must start the new year with a fresh slate, says Bernie’s mother. Not with rows, and Ward understands this well enough. But how do you do that if you’ve never learned to express your feelings? In the village where Ward and Bernie live everyone has his own images and fantasies. When these don’t match reality violent explosions arise that are unloaded together with the fireworks on New Years Eve.
Blote handen is full of rhythmic sentences in which sounds get the space they need. Thanks to this poetic language the novella becomes a moving drama about a boyish prank that gets out of hand, a story which lends itself well to both reading and reading aloud, and which will leave no-one unmoved.