The Disappearance of Robbert
A melancholy, philosophical novel about the desire to disappear without trace
In The Disappearance of Robbert, Welagen plays a witty game, full of self-mockery, with his own life as a writer. The Robbert who disappears is also called Welagen. He’s a twenty-five-year-old writer who, like the author, has written a novel entitled Lipari that won him a prize for the year’s best debut.
In describing the disappearance of his central character, Welagen was inspired by the classic film l’Avventura by Antonioni, as well as by artists including Tacita Dean and Bas Jan Ader. But the origin of his sometimes extremely humorous narrative is personal as well. As a boy Welagen often imagined disappearing without trace; it was a desire that overcame him again after his first novel was published.
One morning, having cleared everything out of his house, the fictional Robbert flees his life, his friends, his family and his best friend Claire, who is about to marry someone else. He takes a train to Germany, where he rents an apartment, finds a job and enters into a sexual relationship with the woman next door. His flight into sex leads nowhere, and he is tracked down by a detective hired by his family. He travels on in a Land Rover to wherever chance may take him. It’s a journey that ends on a small island in the Ionian Sea.
In contrast to his sources of inspiration, Welagen focuses on the fate of the man who disappears, rather than on the empty space he leaves behind for his loved ones. The result is a surprisingly light, humorous story.