Teacher novel evolves into a horror story
‘Bart Koubaa’s new novel De leraar (The Teacher) is mainly narrated in the first person by a Dutch-language teacher, advanced in years, nicknamed The Crow. His pupils at the technical school, are not interested in the subject and he has great difficulty in getting them to do anything. Unlike his openly embittered colleagues, he has become resigned in his cynicism and quietly conservative in his opinions. He even absorbs the news that he is suffering from prostate cancer quite meekly. Since the death of his mother, he has lived alone, his father, a military man, had vanished long ago and never re-established contact. The Crow had also been a soldier, a sniper, before he turned to teaching.
Reading between the lines of his narrative, what comes through is his care and anxiety for one particular pupil to whom he is drawn. He also refers to an ‘incident’; several pupils had attacked him and pulled down his trousers. The scene was filmed and unexpectedly shown at the school party and on internet. Yet he does not press charges.
Slowly it becomes clear that The Crow is holding the one boy about whom he was so concerned as a prisoner in his cellar, and that this boy was one of his attackers. After an incident with the boy, The Crow takes a plane to the usa to shoot his recently traced father. A report in the last chapter of the book discloses finally that The Crow is a serial killer, schizophrenic and maniac, who has stored the dissected bodies of his victims in freezers in order to eat them.
The book seems for some time to be dealing with a disillusioned teacher, a lonely man scarred by a few dramatic experiences in his youth, no longer expecting much from life but nevertheless cherishing principles of good citizenship.
His insensitive tone towards the rest of the world appears to be necessary to shield himself from a sense of impotence. Nothing in this Flemish teacher’s narrative, an engrossing psychological portrait of a loner, prepares the reader for what developes into a horror story of a completely derailed individual.
Then all the separate motifs, hints and intriguing sayings suddenly coalesce and acquire significance and relevance. In the final revelation Koubaa places everything in a wider psychological context, through drawing a parallel with Albert Fish, a similar cannibal in the thirties. De leraar wrongfoots the readers for quite a while, before slapping them in the face and leaving them dumbfounded.