A probing and sublime portrait
Het verborgen weefsel (Hidden Fibre) is Stefan Hertmans’ fourth novel, again unique in its combination of structure and content. In fragmentary way he explores and evokes the consciousness of forty-year old author Jelina. Married with an eight-year-old daughter, she leads a comfortable and independent life, and yet she feels dejected and discontented, and these ‘incongruous feelings’ burden her life, her work and her relationship with her husband.
Her fear of growing old, her sense of something lacking, her existential loneliness and her underlying melancholy have come to assume a regular place in her life. Her sister has spurned contact with her, ever since they had a conflict about their father’s unevenly distributed affection, but this isn’t the problem. Jelina is actually at a critical stage of confronting life as it is. Reluctantly she recognizes that now she has reached forty, the promises for the future have failed to deliver and that any hope of finding happiness has shrunk. However, she worries that acceptation and resignation will weaken her feelings and erode her authorship. At a writers’ congress, she is socially intractable, alternately extrovert and anti-social, and even when she embarks on a passionate relationship, the fatalism in the depths of her soul stays firmly in place. In the surprising conclusion to the book, she opts for her family, only to leave them immediately again.
The novel’s title refers to the structure of the soul, that incomprehensible tangle of yearnings and emotions that forms the basis of a person’s behaviour. To those around her, Jelina is going through a difficult time, being tossed between varying emotions. But the reader gets to know her as a woman who is asking essential questions at a key moment in her existence, about the nature and significance of her intense and complex interaction with people and the things that concern her, about her anxiety and her ambition, about her longings and the underlying melancholy. Stefan Hertmans registers and evokes admirably the mind of an intense and lively woman as she draws up a midlife balance, weighing up hope and satisfaction, expectation and realization. Het verborgen weefsel is a recognizable, probing, and sublime portrait.