Peter van Gestel has already won an award in recognition of his oeuvre, but he still keeps on writing. Kleine Felix (Little Felix) is his latest book, which is set in post-war Amsterdam and is reminiscent of his well-received Winterijs (Winter Ice).
Felix Wonder is a typical Van Gestel lad: a little grubby around the edges, older than his years and endowed with the gift of the gab. Van Gestel’s characters are proper little chatterboxes.
However, his characters’ conversations rarely result in any real communication: one person asks a question, then someone else asks another question, and there’s no chance of any answers, because, by that time, the conversation has moved on too far. Felix himself just rattles away, innocently trusting that his safe little world, with his parents and Veertje, his favourite cousin, always close by, will never change.
However, it doesn’t take long to turn a comfortable life upside down. Veertje emigrates to Australia, then Felix’s dad gets a job as an entertainer on a ship and both of his parents set off for America, leaving Felix at the “Joyful Children’s Home”. However, life at the children’s home is anything but joyful. Felix doesn’t bear too much of a grudge against his parents though: “They abandoned me here, and that wasn’t a nice thing to do, but I’ll either manage on my own or I won’t. You never know how things are going to turn out.”
Together with Gerda, an older girl at the home, he makes a run for it when no one is looking. Life on the open road is exciting at first, but soon becomes pretty miserable – the two of them don’t have much idea of how to live as runaways and they find out just how easy it is to get lost in a forest.
However, everything turns out fine for Felix, although less so for Gerda. The events in this delightful story are never truly dramatic, but remain small. Traumatic events are defused and ships turn around, bringing back missing family members. Van Gestel describes all of this in his typical, charming style, with a beautifully subtle sense of humour and realistic dialogues. Little Felix is a wonderful character, and this is a wonderful book.