A frightening fairytale
The belligerent motto of this novel is taken from Virginia Woolf: ‘This is an insignificant book, because it’s about the feelings of women in the living room.’ Agnes Stam is the protagonist of this enjoyable book, which begins with a suggestive chapter on the experiences and thoughts of a modern improvised family which goes on holiday to the Scottish island of Mull. Christine (10) and Thomas (4) try sulkily to run away from their mother and her boyfriend.
Agnes Stam, a retired infant schoolteacher, also goes to the island. Seventy years old and unmarried, she is going to the family summer house on Mull on her own for the first time. Throughout her life the woman was spoiled by her four brothers, all of whom are now dead. They left her with a glass eye, the result of an accident long ago they caused. This is a glimpse of man’s imperfection-one of the permanent themes of Renate Dorrestein’s work.
Without her realising it, Christine and Thomas stow away in her car on the ferry. When she finds out, the retired schoolteacher remains calm, takes the children home with her, plays games with them, suspects that Christine may already have had incestuous experiences, and out of solidarity keeps the two hidden from the outside world. Staying in the old summer house, thinking back to the marital vicissitudes of her four brothers and to the unspoken love she felt for one of them, the old woman discovers that she has always been blind with her good eye to the cracks in the family’s happiness.
The seven chapters open with quotations from the Book of Genesis. The last part, for example, begins with ‘And God saw that it was good’. Under Renate Dorrestein’s direction there is a mounting tide of danger and horror, until the bomb bursts and we realise that fundamentally it was not, and is not, good. God was too gullible.