The Secret of Having a Cheerful Disposition
H.C. ten Berge is known as a ‘difficult’ author. However, since the publication in 1986 of his novel Het geheim van een opgewekt humeur he seems to have opted for a greater degree of accessibility, owing to exciting intrigue and lucid style.
The main character, Edgar Moortgat, writes pornographic stories for a glossy men’s magazine. In his spare time he is writing a screenplay based on the classic incest motif as it appears in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. His old school chum, the anthropologist, Hugo Radstake, tells Moortgat the long story he has found in a sixteenth century Mexican chronicle. The story is about two monks who have gone to the New World as missionaries with their sister. In their isolated existence there they both make love to her in turn. When the girl becomes pregnant the prime suspect is made out to be a travelling salesman and the brothers end up murdering the innocent merchant.
As with Ovid, love is connected with a horrible death. When Moortgat discovers that Coco Prima, the exotic porno star with whom he is having a torrid affair, is Radstake’s stepdaughter, he decides to conceal this from his over-sensitive friend. When Radstake nevertheless eventually finds out, he commits suicide and Moortgat subsequently hears about how Radstake had intended to commit incest with Coco while in Mexico. He had made up the story about the monks to alleviate his own mixed up feelings. Myth, history and story within a story all come together in this complexly structured tragedy of fate in which Ten Berge displays his multi-faced craftsmanship.