‘In September of the year nineteen-hundred and seventy-six, I had been married for three years and was hopelessly in love: not with my wife, but with her niece. Gitta was fourteen, I was twenty-four.’ The opening sentences of Eriek Verpale’s new novel are right on target: in Gitta he uses a poignant and lively style to tell of his consuming love for his very own Lolita.
Despite this wink to Nabokov, Gitta is a typical Verpale book. Like in his first novel Alles in het klein, Verpale describes his own, failure-ridden life. He still spends all his money on excessive quantities of drink, does dumb jobs in factories and struggles with existence. In his fictional home the only ones doing well are the cats Trotsky and Bakunin. The form of the book is also pleasantly familiar. Verpale skilfully interweaves daydreams about his fourteen-year-old niece with notes about his troublesome authorship, letters of lamentation to a female friend and the hilarious story of his being recalled for military service. All of these slightly hopeless situations revolve around each other.
Verpale’s new mission in the Belgian Armed Forces is as unsuccessful as his advances to his niece. Yet this incapacity is the very source of Verpale’s authorial power. His writing elevates all these trivial adventures to significant events. In unadulterated Flemish he manages to ward off reality. On paper he declares his love to Gitta without ado - usually in the form of infectious recitation, occasionally in simple, melancholy sentences.
Verpale never doubts that his desire will never rise up from the page. Yet it is his little muse herself who finally makes this clear to him, in the most important and poetic scene of the novel. At a deserted station Gitta tells him: ‘There’s a train that always passes by here: the train to nowhere. Maybe we could take it.’