Outside It’s Monday
An ode to memory
In his new novel Bernlef explores the subterranean labyrinths of memory, examining what endures and what disappears. The narrator’s tone is contemplative, philosophical and resigned, and yet at the same time he tells an exciting story with a keen sense of pacing. The combination is surprisingly effective. The great marvel of this serious novel is its natural grace.
In a short span of time Stijn Bekkering is forced to cope with two extreme cases of disappearance and loss. First he wakes up from a coma, only to hear that his wife has not survived their car accident and is already buried. Then his son skips town, abandoning wife and child. There are reasons enough for Bekkering to start his life again, to reflect on his bond with his wife and son and to talk these matters over with the others who have been left behind: his daughter-in-law and his grandson.
In disconnected blocks of text and short chapters that jump from the present to the past, and from place to place, Bernlef sketches a portrait of a marriage, or rather, two marriages, as Bekkering slowly discovers his son’s secret life. Whereas Bekkering cherished the well-worn habits and rituals of his marriage, his normally strait-laced son has been swept up by a fervent infatuation. ‘It was a passion, a bit like an avalanche; you get caught up, and when you come to, you don’t know what’s happened to you. When you think back, there really wasn’t anything to it.’ he explained to his father afterwards.
Bekkering finds it hard to grasp that life can take such a banal turn, at the cost of so much pain to others. Yet at the same time, without realizing it, he too proves susceptible to the temptation of stepping into a whole new life, on the other side of the world.
Bernlef’s Outside It’s Monday is an ode to memory. You cannot live without memories, believes Bekkering’s. ‘When someone’s no longer here, memories are the only thing left, so you cherish them, try to prevent them from fading away.’ Symbolically, he earns his living buying and selling discarded furniture and junk once cherished by its owners, and this casts his struggle against the permanence of the past in a lovely, melancholy light. What endures in the end, is not someone’s clothing which is on its way to a second-hand existence, but the memory of the freckles on that person’s shoulder – coloured by regret at never having counted those freckles.