De laatste brief
A humorous and comforting book about growing pains
The Last Letter is a lively debut for young readers by the Friesian writer, Hanneke de Jong. The story describes the changing relationship between fifteen-year-old Berber, and her mother, seen through the daughter’s eyes. They live alone together; Berber’s father walked out on the family for another, younger woman and her older brother is away at university. Berber is in her fourth year of secondary school and her mother works part-time. The daughter comes across as a high-spirited, awkward teenager, entirely obsessed with her own appearance and with Erik, her classmate, with whom she is in love.
Initially, she behaves unbearably selfishly towards her mother. The mother is a sober woman - with, according to her daughter, ‘a saggy body and floppy tits’ - who is incapable of carrying on a proper conversation with her daughter. Nor has she ever been able to talk about Berber’s father leaving. Instead, she writes short stories in the first person about what she got up to as a teenager with her best friend. Many of the chapters begin with one of these stories, printed as if written on an old-fashioned typewriter. First mysterious and idyllic - rather intriguing - but later increasingly disturbing, until the friend finally commits suicide.
In the beginning, Berber simply finds the stories her mother leaves on the fridge or on the table stupid. She has her own life to lead, with her own best friend and tries to appear cool and relaxed at school. She dyes her hair black and manages to get more money out of her mother for going-out clothes than she can actually afford. She is hoping to get off with Erik at the school party. And she plays her mother off against her father so long that she gets permission to go to Spain with a group of classmates in the summer holiday.
Gradually, though, a certain parallel begins to emerge between her mother’s stories of the old days and her daughter’s experiences now, particularly where love and friendship between young people are concerned. Finally, mother and daughter manage to talk and then Berber turns out not to be a little madam after all. Together, they visit the grave of the mother’s friend, which saves their relationship and is therapeutic for the mother. The Last Letter is a rich book: it not only shows that you can only assimilate traumatic experiences once you learn to talk about them, but it also demonstrates in various ways the difference between ‘loving’ and ‘needing’.
lieke van duin