Book

Patricia de Martelaere

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.

A bizarre deep sea of vortices, speedboats and rapids, full of colour, sounds, clear water, and pure poison. de standaard Her language displays rare enthusiasm and concentration, which encourage the reader to leaf back through the pages - eager to follow the story yet unwilling to miss a thing.

De Volkskrant

A hurricane in the lee of Flemish literature

Knack

Patricia de Martelaere

Patricia de Martelaere (b. 1957) is a writer and professor of philosophy. Between 1988 and 1992 she published four novels: Nachtboek van een slapeloze (Night Book of an Insomniac, 1988), De schilder en zijn model (The Painter and His Model, 1989), Littekens (Scars, 1990), and De staart (The Tail…

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Details

Het onverwachte antwoord (2004). Fiction, 286 pages.

Publisher

J.M. Meulenhoff

Herengracht 507
NL - 1017 BV Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 553 35 00
Fax: +31 20 625 11 35

E-mail:
info@meulenhoff.nl
Website:
http://www.meulenhoff.nl

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