The structure of this book betrays Scholten’s considerable cinematic talent. He succeeds in transforming a static theme into a dynamic story. The book is made up of 61 short chapters which take place in various settings. The language is simple and realistic, the dialogues ring true, and Frederik van H., the 23-year-old main character, frets and worries without becoming a moaning bore. Scholten fully deserves the success he has reaped with Tachtig.
Tachtig begins with Frederik travelling from Rotterdam to his home town in the province of Twente where he is going to look after his mother’s spacious house. Descendants of a once-powerful textile dynasty, his family still basks in the memories of bygone glory. For Frederik the worst of all possible futures is the one he can foresee: ‘What I’m really afraid of is that everything might turn out the way it’s meant to.’ He lives in Rotterdam and goes to university in Delft but would actually prefer to be writing for the movies in Amsterdam. His girlfriend is nice but he’s tired of her. The only thing absent from his litany of dissatisfaction is a patricidal tendency.
This is because he has had to do without a father’s influence. Seventeen years earlier his father suddenly fled Twente, abandoning his wife and children. After resolving to follow his example and embark on a life of his own, Frederik takes advantage of his days in his mother’s house to ‘search for his father’. He learns that his father was confronted with a ‘now or never’ moment at an age when the choice for ‘now’ (a break with his immediate surroundings) meant hurting those who were closest to him.
Scholten (clearly a John Fante enthusiast) conveys this sombre theme with a light touch and perfect sense of balance. The decline of the Twente textile industry, the search for a missing father and the familiar perils of student life (drink, girls and vague dreams of the future) are ingeniously interwoven