The sacred, yet fragile bond between parent and child
Roos van Rijswijk’s first novel is in no sense typical of a debut. You will find no adolescent angst here, no vacuous student lives. This young writer has cleverly succeeded in getting inside the head of a terminally ill woman of fifty-seven, depicting Angelique’s decline, fear, regret, anger and ultimate acceptance as convincingly as if they were her own.
On the advice of her therapist, Angelique starts to write. Piecemeal, through her letters and diary entries, the reader learns that there is a gaping hole in her life. She has never managed to be a mother to her son Miguel. Born into a wealthy environment, she had no need to work. Miguel was conceived as the result of an impulsive act with a Mexican whom Angelique has barely seen since. She felt no love for the unwanted child.
Miguel was thrown back on his own resources and left home at the age of eighteen. He moved to the German town of Nieheim (what’s in a name?), where he took into his care a mentally handicapped man called Jorge. Eventually he gets onto a train to Amsterdam, along with Jorge, just as his mother is setting out on a journey in the opposite direction, determined to see her son one last time before she dies
Van Rijswijk wisely avoids telling us whether or not a final meeting takes place between the two. This is not a writer of clamorous apotheoses. She is mainly concerned to show us the confusing inner worlds of a mother and son, and what lies beneath the surface of their troubled relationship.
Unholy fearlessly tackles the difficult topics we usually shy away from. What will you do, faced with the end of your life? Will you stand by the choices you made in the past, or change course while you still can? In striking, evocative language, the author explores how the sanctity of the family may not be at holy as we want it to be, while questioning the existence of unconditional love that one often takes for granted. With her self-assured, resolute style, Roos van Rijswijk touches the reader deeply.