The Book Of Violet And Death
This novel’s remarkable title – derived from an old handbook for neurotics which was the constant companion of Reve’s youth – has been known to aficionados of the author’s work for a good thirty years. After all, it was Reve himself who announced in his renowned autobiographical books in the sixties that he would one day write a book called Het Boek Van Violet En Dood that would render all other books superfluous, with the exception of the Bible and the telephone book.
For a long time it seemed as if it was just a ghost title, that it belonged to that ultimate book which, like a mirage, appears at regular intervals to every writer. By adorning this book with this loaded title, Reve seemed to be tempting the gods. But the end result has forced even the sceptics among the critics to toe the line: the old master has proven himself a vigorous old master.
There is no shortage of irony and jokes, but what Gerard Reve proves more than anything else is that there is a system to the memories he summons up in this book: they are linked by the artistically fertile realisation that Love and Death are irrevocably linked, and that it is up to the artist to reveal this mystical and tragic alliance to the reader. And Reve wouldn’t be himself if he wasted any time before adopting a straight face to mislead the reader by adding: ‘Tragic is always good.’
Het Boek Van Violet En Dood is an especially witty book. The master stylist with his archaic language and his barrage of dryly comical bromides regularly has the reader rolling with laughter. That doesn’t detract from the fact that this novel is ultimately a serious testimony, and the apologia of a great and undisputed author. ‘Art is no game, and everything that’s new and original is bad and worthless,’ writes Reve, who prefers to stick to the facts, which are mad enough as it is. In response to the death and funeral of his beautiful young neighbour, the narrator retraces those moments in his life when he previously suspected the fatal association of love and death. A romantic-decadent homosexual Catholic who has led an amazing life, Gerard Reve speaks his irresistible monologues: teasing, wanton, hilarious and sincere.