A clever novel about paranoia
Peter Terrin’s new novel, De bewaker (The Guard), is set largely in the underground car park of a huge luxury apartment block. Two guards, manager Harry and narrator Michel, are there to ensure the occupants’ safety. They are never relieved, but once in a while ‘the organisation’ brings them new supplies. Their assumption that the outside world has been hit by major disaster or a war is strengthened when all residents save one flee the building. Entirely isolated and living in severe circumstances, they are nevertheless totally absorbed in their task.
Since they hope to one day be part of the security officers’ elite and expect to be tested for this, they don’t want to make a single mistake regarding even their supplies deliverer as a potential threat.
When a third guard, a black man, arrives unexpectedly to fill a vacancy they didn’t anticipate, all fuses in their perception of reality blow. Is he an inspector? Is he so relaxed because he is testing their commitment? Does he want them to stop trusting each other? Harry is the first to derail – he tortures and kills the man. Then he and Michel take the lift to check the situation upstairs, but they lose each other inside the immense building. Michel meets Claudia, one of the occupants’ cooks. She cleans him up and pampers him. Then the last remaining resident also turns up and reassures Michel, so that he can return to the familiar cellar that has apparently shaped him irrevocably.
As in Peter Terrin’s novel Blanco (Blank), the world of these characters is destabilized, with everything taking place in their heads as they become detached from reality. Their initial alienation leads to distrust, restricted awareness, insensitivity, paranoia, and finally violent excess. It isn’t always clear to the reader when their twisted perception leads to delusion.
De bewaker addresses the reader on different levels. Peter Terrin himself suggested that his novel could be read as an allegory of the war in Iraq, but it is more. In the unusual tension and troubling atmosphere of the seclusion of this ‘huis clos’, he portrays a wide range of everyday emotions.