Listening to Houses Breathe
An exhilarating mix of media satire and autobiographical fiction in the tradition of Philip Roth
‘The past, what was all that about?’ Welcome to Arie Storm’s seventh novel. In Listening to Houses Breathe, Storm’s alter ego, August Voois, is plunged into a deep crisis and comes face to face with a distant past with which he has yet to make peace.
Like his creator, August Voois is a writer, an academic and a book reviewer for a newspaper and a radio show. Yet he increasingly finds himself questioning the meaning of virtually everything he does. In his eyes the world is falling prey to stupidity and infantilism, while the serious appreciation of literature has become the domain of a paltry few. And as if that were not enough, his state of mind is being rattled by strange sighs that seem to be emanating from the walls of his home.
One day our cynical protagonist decides he can take no more and bids farewell to his jobs at the university and the radio station. A raging storm hits the city and rips a gaping hole in the fabric of his home, through which he, his wife Alice and his daughter Masja are able to travel back in time. They become onlookers in Voois’ past as a greengrocer’s son in a rough neighbourhood of The Hague. As he revisits the houses of his youth – his parental home and the homes of neighbours with whom he spent much of his time – long-suppressed traumas rise up from the depths.
While Storm’s novel contains subtle references to Alice in Wonderland, it is far from a series of absurd adventures. Listening to Houses Breathe begins as a cynical yet upbeat satire on the literary world, but goes on to develop into a thoughtful reflection on the workings of nostalgia and the pain hidden away behind some of our childhood memories. When the time comes for the reader to emerge from the wormhole with Voois, he cannot help but feel an abiding fondness for the man.