Julia’s Glorious Domain
A revealing book about missed opportunities
‘You have only one life in which to fulfil your every desire,’ says the main character in the novel De heerlijkheid van Julia by Oscar van den Boogaard. And that is just what Julia tries to do her whole life long, unlike her meek husband, who does not take his own desires seriously enough, dooming himself to remain ‘an architect of castles in the air.’
Julia, on the other hand, wants to build them in earnest. She is driven chiefly by her desire to fuse opposites, to bring together things that necessarily complement each other–men and women, for example–to remove boundary lines, ultimately to reconcile the world of her imagination with the world of reality. The desire to do this is not a mere whim. As the opening quotation by Gombrowicz already states, it is embedded in a vision in which people exist only as they are reflected by others, coming to life only through their relationships to each other.
The longing resulting from this vision is similar to the striving for a mystic union, and De heerlijkheid van Julia does indeed display pronounced mystic and ecstatic elements. The way in which Van den Boogaard moulds them into literature is not at all melodramatic or pompous, however. His tone always remains elegant. His style is associative, rich in imagery, smooth, and extremely nimble. Nor does Van den Boogaard shrink from using fantasy or unorthodox images, for example when he makes Julia fly, taking off on flights fuelled by her own will power, or when he makes a perfect comparison between her daughter and an item in the IKEA furniture collection.
The sometimes chaotic whirl of detail, conversations, and events is always balanced by the great precision with which Vanden Boogaard evokes the context, such as his description of the setting and his inclusion of actual facts like the death of the Belgian King Baudouin.
A tightly knit structure lurks behind the book’s seeming whimsicality and agility, however. Van den Boogaard does not at all force Julia’s story into a chronological line, just as he is apparently unwilling to take the reader’s hand and lead him every step of the way. The unity of the novel is achieved through purely literary means. The book has an elliptical structure, whereby the end connects up again with the beginning. At the same time, small echo effects–the regular recurrence of similar motifs thread together the various episodes of this story told in fragments. Oscar van den Boogaard has succeeded in writing a book that is curious, fanciful, and scarcely to be compared with other novels.