The Unexpected Answer
A moving novel of longing and deprivation
With The Unexpected Answer Patricia De Martelaere illustrates her claim that language is ‘not a tool’ but ‘material’ to an author. In the novel, she does not allow the writer, philosopher, husband, lover, and father Godfried H. to speak, but makes him instead the subject of six texts written from the points of view of the women who play a role in his life. The first draws his portrait. Initially she keeps her distance, later she embarks on an unexpected and brief relationship with him.
With this, the author immediately indicates that the book is dealing with identity, about how people regard one another, perhaps touch one another. The second woman, a geneticist, who largely bases her life on scientific perception, attempts to fit her irrational yearning for Gotfried into the context of the theory of evolution. The third woman is his wife, a psychoanalyst, who tries to weigh up the importance of truth and fantasy when a patient reveals a relationship with her husband during a psychoanalytical session. The account given by this manic-depressive patient is particularly fascinating in its representation of her complex experience of the world. A former student meets Godfried H. on the train and her admiration is first reinforced by his fame, then tarnished. In the concluding chapter, H. puts his daughter to bed and has to confront the demons of his and her imagination.
The longest chapter, which takes up almost half of the book, consists of a letter, addressed to Godfried H. during his absence in the course of a summer holiday. In this chapter, the question of the author’s identity remains open for quite a while. This is ever more relevant as the reader is increasingly astonished by an overwhelming articulation of deprivation, longing, passion, and absorption into the other. Unchecked emotions and existential yearning submerge the scarce scientific and philosophical references present here. The conclusion can only be that this chapter expresses the feeling of all the women collectively. Thus ‘the unexpected answer’ (‘Yes’) to a question that was not explicitly asked seems to imply the embrace of life as a passionate, sensual experience. The Unexpected Answer is not only a challenging but also a passionate and moving novel.