A Beautiful Young Woman
A man brought to ruin by his marriage and his fear of decline
One of the most important Dutch writers of the last decade took on the challenge of writing the novella that would form the centrepiece for the annual Book Week. The result is an exquisite tragedy fuelled by an age gap and irreconcilable differences, which has garnered five-star critical acclaim.
For Edward, a virologist in his mid-forties and the protagonist of A Beautiful Young Woman, decline and deterioration have become an obsession. In Buddhism, a keen awareness of decay is seen as one of the principal sources of suffering. For that reason alone he regards his relationship with a woman fifteen years his junior as a stroke of fortune: Ruth is not only beautiful, intelligent and down to earth, but she seems to have given him a new lease of life.
Edward and Ruth’s roles reverse, however: ‘He did not grow younger thanks to her, she grew older thanks to him’. Their wedding celebrations mark the highlight of their relationship; from that point on, their woes multiply. Ruth has trouble accepting the morally questionable aspects of Edward’s career (lab tests on animals, corporate junkets). She wants a child (something Edward can live without), and when their baby son is finally born, he won’t stop crying.
Bruised by fatigue, Ruth starts to think her child is crying because he senses that his father didn’t want him and she throws Edward out of their home. By this stage he has long been involved in an extra-marital affair, which will bring him even less happiness.
Edward is a modern-day Job, and Wieringa describes his ordeal in fast-paced, lyrical prose that taps into rich seams of humour and depths of emotion. Edward largely brings his downfall upon himself, through his insecurities and his negative thinking. His fate is even prefigured in a dream he has halfway through the narrative: ‘This is what he has made of his life, a wasteland that stretches off in every direction, and of all the feelings he ever possessed, only fear and confusion remain.’