A compact melodrama about a quarrelsome femme fatale
A.F.Th. van der Heijden is back with a short novel that returns to a domain in which he excels, describing a childhood in the sultry, deeply Catholic south of the Netherlands. The story is told by Albert Egbers, whom readers remember from Van der Heijden’s magisterial cycle of novels The Toothless Time. Everyone, including the author, thought that series had come to an end, but The Hellcat brings its world back to life.
Families – they fuck you up, the poem goes, and Egbers discovers the bitter truth that ‘many people turn against their families when they become adults, emigrating to other social biotopes’. And: ‘If they can’t manage to extricate themselves from their family, then all that is left is the hope that someone or other will soon die.’Tidy Tiny is no exception. She is Albert’s garrulous aunt, a cleaner whose looks have caused many men to lose their heads. We follow the story of Albert and his aunt over a period of more than fifty years. She manages to make a thorough mess of her life and does all she can to drag others down with her. But everything she does stems from her past. Rumour has it that she was infertile and men tired of her as a result.
As a student Albert ends up in bed with his aunt, where he does things her husband wouldn’t dream of: ‘Koos doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. He grunts alright, but not between my legs,’ she says. It is there that the essence of the story unfolds in just a few pages: incest, impotence and acid humour. The suffering in this family is immense and insane. Albert refuses to let it destroy him. The Hellcat is vivid proof of A.F.Th. van der Heijden’s marvellous artistry.