Oversteken by Marjolijn Hof is a holiday story full of wonderful images and true-tolife characters, written with great style and an original atmosphere. The protagonist is the eleven-year-old Meta, who gives an honest and open account of her futile attempts to get her mother to stay together with her umpteenth new boyfriend, the Icelander Bjarni. She is a completely ‘ordinary’ girl, but she gains a unique voice, thanks to Hof’s natural and light-hearted writing style and talent for capturing large emotions in small details.
A summer holiday in Iceland provides the motor for the plot. This is a good choice of setting and offers exciting possibilities. The rugged mountain landscape with volcanoes hidden beneath ice caps conceals potential danger, presents the characters and the reader with wonderful vistas, and serves as the perfect test for the relationship between Meta’s mother, a Francophile with a fondness for cafés, and Bjarni, who is more the outdoor type: ‘I’ve got fresh air and space and that’s all I need.’
Hof uses her sharp dialogue to create a convincing sketch of the inner development of her holidaymakers. Meta’s affinity with Bjarni, Iceland and its bloodthirsty sagas grows, while her mother discovers that neither the man, nor the country and the barbaric stories it has produced, are her kind of thing. This leads to tension, unexpressed but most definitely felt, between Meta and her mother and between Meta’s mother and Bjarni, which Hof relates with a fine touch. When Meta counts ‘argument number five’, she fears that it’s the end of the holiday. So she runs away. Just to be anywhere else.
Meta hopes that the holiday will go on, but even more than that, she hopes that Bjarni and her mother will stay the course. You can constantly feel her desire for a father figure, even though Hof refers to this only when Meta meets the know-all twelve-year-old Oskar and they have a discussion about whether you say ‘on’ or ‘in’ Iceland. The conversation that ensues is typical of Hof’s own voice: simple, funny, direct and poignant, all at the same time: ‘“At home we just say what we want. On Iceland. In Iceland. It doesn’t matter. Bláberja hjálp hangikjöt.” “What did you say?” “It’s Icelandic,” I said. “I learnt it from my dad.” “Sounds like fun, an Icelandic dad.” “Yes,” I said. “Better than an ordinary one.”’
By Mirjam Noorduijn