The meaning of happiness
From the very first pages of his new novel, Kees van Beijnum puts the reader on edge. After six months, scientific researcher and happiness expert Mart Hitz, married father of a fourteen-year-old girl, decides to leave home for his mistress Karin. However, nature is stronger than he is: when he comes home, to announce his decision, it is to find out that a dyke has broken and that the villagers – Dana, Mart’s wife among them – have been evacuated to the bowling alley. But when Mart goes there and doesn’t find her, a dark, winding hunt commences. Along with the police, his inlaws, and his daughter, he follows the leads of the few witnesses and slowly becomes mired in quicksand as he discovers that she, too, had a secret life.
The essence of this compelling novel lies in its title and literally so, since the eponymously named Amsterdam rock-music temple is where Mart first met Karin, a young single woman who surprised him by being open to a boring, married man as he saw himself.
Paradiso is really about the meaning of happiness, too. Ironically, Mart Hitz, by profession a happiness expert, gropes about in the dark when it comes to his own happiness, and heads for doom.
Paradiso’s power is its tension, which contrasts so strongly with the shrouded lyricism of the style. Thus the realistic relational drama gains an almost existential depth. Van Beijnum doesn’t hesitate to give his story a moral, which flows naturally from the drama’s seriousness. People have everything but they forget to appreciate it. Cliché this may be, but under Van Beijnum’s skilled pen, it is revealed as a fresh and penetrating insight.