The Literary Circle
Brilliant indictment of the ‘backyard network’
Thirty-year-old Theresa Pellikaan is typical of the wealthy middle classes - with her respectable background, successful husband and house in an apparently sleepy, yet powerful, rich village. ‘Money is what you have, it isn’t for talking about,’ she feels, and art is a spiritual occupation.
Her former schoolmate Ruth Ackermann, brought up in the same village, has made waves with an international bestseller, yet none of the villagers ever mention her achievement, not even the literary circle of Theresa’s father, famous civil rights scholar Randolf Pellikaan. The circle isn’t interested: they only read ‘literature’.
But there’s a dark secret in the village. Slowly it emerges that the bestselling author’s father, a former member of the literary circle, was the deputy director of a company which supplied contaminated glycerine to Haiti. Not knowing what to do with the contaminated consignment, he had turned to his highplaced friends for advice - thereby making them accomplices.
Februari brings to light a shameful episode in Dutch history. In the nineties the Alphen company, Vos bv, deliberately supplied heavily contaminated glycerine to Haiti, which was then used in cough syrup, resulting in the death of seventy children and leaving dozens handicapped. The case was settled, and even though the Public Prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute has been challenged several times, it has never been reopened.
In De literaire kring (The Literary Circle) Februari paints a dark picture of the right-minded class society in the Netherlands in which such things can happen. It is an indictment of the ‘backyard network’ where there’s always someone whose backyard borders on yours who can help. ‘You don’t have principles, you have a network,’ one of Februari’s characters says to Randolf.
This novel is about looking away, ‘Not doing your job, keeping your mouth shut, looking the other way, referring to regulations you know are wrong, hiding behind superiors whom you know don’t give a shit about the world.’ A modern social critique, De literaire kring is a fluent novel full of irony, playing masterfully with the conventions of chicklit and women’s thrillers. Februari draws on a variety of sources, from the Oprah Winfrey Show to works by Aristophanes. Ironically, the novel has appeared on countless reading lists of reading clubs in rich Dutch villages.