Het gat in de wereld
International prose from a contemporary romantic
Barnard, who grew up as the son of a clergyman poet, has been on the move all his adult life, as if the weight of tradition threatened to consume him. Het gat in de wereld, autobiographical prose halfway between story and essay, describes his time as a guest lecturer at Austin University as well as trips to Prague, the former Marienbad, and Trieste. Barnard’s travels are also journeys in time.
In the Prague of before the Velvet Revolution, Barnard’s father, who accompanies him, tells him about his socialist great-uncle Dirk. In Mariánské Láznÿ, once the fashionable spa Marienbad, Barnard reflects on Crown Prince Rudolf von Hapsburg who struggled with his father and shot himself out of the world in 1889. A revolver shot that retrospectively can be seen as heralding the end of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. And in the dead city of Trieste Barnard visits the ancient daughter of the cunning paint manufacturer and great writer Svevo (who was also a dominant father).
As sidelines and extensions of the essential matter, the travel stories are set between two pieces that deal directly with the ‘land of mist and manure’ (as the nineteenth century poet De Génestet called the Netherlands) and especially with Barnard’s childhood in Rozendaal. Het gat in de wereld ends with reminiscences about his faithful friend Peter together with whom Barnard passed through secondary school and the end of childhood. The book begins with a series of vignettes about his relationship with his father, the loved and loveable millstone who transferred to his son a great sensitivity for words and symbols. No insignificant heritage.
Where so many writers fumble artificial symbols together Barnard has only to pick them out and fit them into his rainbow of finely honed expressions. Barnard has actually never travelled very far from all those things he originally received. He shows the pictures from the twilights of his memory and history like complete and well lit polaroids.
Barnard’s homesickness in Austin where he gives lessons to one and a half students extends to the city, the bar and the friends who speak just like him: ‘Home, that’s the native language.’ But although this incurable romantic might be far from mist and manure he’s at least got the words close at hand. No matter how far he wanders, Barnard always stays close to Rozendaal.