The Third Marriage
Infinitely quotable and extremely enjoyable
‘And what isn’t useful, simply disappears. No questions asked.’ Het derde huwelijk (The Third Marriage), Tom Lanoye’s sixth novel, opens with this hard truth; hard because Maarten Seebregs, the main character, is not a ‘useful’ person.
He is dying, his work as a location scout for films has been taken from him, and the only things that remain are painkillers and recollections of his deceased lover. And then an opportunity to be of use, just one more time, comes from out of the blue. A stranger offers him a large sum of money to enter into a marriage of convenience with his girlfriend, African refugee Tamara. Maarten hesitates, but not for long.
In eight chapters, Lanoye tells the story from the point of view of Maarten Seebregs, who sees the world as if through a camera lens, making The Third Marriage a very cinematic novel. Each chapter is composed of a single scene: meeting Tamara for the first time; the day she moves in; a visit by the Immigration Department inspectors; an encounter with Maarten’s previously callous father now mellowing with age. And the moment at which things start to get out of hand: when a second refugee moves in with Maarten. According to Tamara, Phillip is her brother, but Tamara is not averse to a little white lie if it suits her purposes.
The book reads like a tragicomedy, seasoned with criticism of such things as the dumbing down of television and the petty bourgeoisie in trendy urban quarters. Maarten is a gifted grouser with a dark sense of humour and nothing escapes his mockery. Yet there is room for beauty too, most particularly in Maarten’s memories of his deceased lover.
Walking a tightrope between slapstick and drama, journalism and opera, Lanoye has written an extremely topical novel which highlights social decline, migration, Europe’s future, problems with young immigrants, and racism. He manages to avoid clichés rather elegantly, even when Maarten and Tamara are verbally abused by immigrant youths in a tram. As this particular exchange continues, the aggressors prove to be just as human and tragic as their victims.
In the up-tempo The Third Marriage, Lanoye also treats the reader to more of the splendidly recalcitrant definitions that litter all of his prose, a fine example being ‘migration is only a form of Darwinism.’