A real page-turner
Turkish Delight (1969) opens in a sculptor’s squalid studio. The nameless artist has been distraught and angry since Olga, the great love of his life, left him a few years before. He cannot accept that she is gone and lies in bed for weeks at a time, fantasising about what he has lost. When not doing that, he takes his frustration out on other women. ‘I fucked one girl after another. I dragged them to my lair, ripped their clothes off and banged the shit out of them.’
After the bitter opening chapter, Wolkers alternates nimbly between past and present as he tells the story of the fateful relationship, from the moment Olga gives the sculptor a lift and they make love in her car (and his penis gets caught between the ‘copper railway’ of his zip) to their inevitable break-up under pressure from her shrewish mother. Some time after their break-up, the narrator loses Olga for a second time, when doctors find a tumour ‘the size of a bar of toilet soap’ in her brain. They succeed in removing part of it, but she slowly loses her sight after the operation and eventually dies.
The novel makes compelling reading. Wolkers rarely pauses to reflect and he never theorises, but simply piles one sensational scene on top of another. All the scenes are evocative, raw and exciting, full of elaborate metaphors. This made it perfect for filming (the eponymous film was directed by Paul Verhoeven).
The story of the sculptor’s and Olga’s unbridled and ‘monstrously happy’ love stands in sharp contrast to the sculptor’s impotent rage at the outset of the book and the moving and poignant final chapters, which describe his visits to Olga in the hospital and her inexorable decline. There, at her bedside, he carefully feeds Olga soft, sweet Turkish delight. It is a fragile symbol of their ill-fated love.