A hilarious picaresque debut
The narrator in Scraps plays second fiddle to his ‘principled’ pal Celis who has made a conscious decision to become a social security scrounger. The two meet when they attempt to organise a ‘better’ food distribution for the homeless, but thanks to the liberal amounts of wine involved, this inevitable gets completely out of hand.
Full of conviction, they then throw themselves into a free and easy existence in which they try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way: they pimp for a while, they team up with a female pickpocket, they scrabble together enough money to live the highlife during a seaside holiday in Italy, and they stay in the luxurious villa of the parents of a student they picked up out of the gutter. Whichever avenue they explore, they never have any difficulty finding female company, although Celis does not always feel comfortable about this.
This freebooter existence continues until it is brought to an end by an unfortunate incident when they try to squat in a house that turns out to be still inhabited. The narrator’s hospitalisation in a psychiatric centre will mark a turning point in his convictions. When he subsequently chooses a mainstream existence, with a wife and a job in which he has to kowtow to a boss, his already fading friendship with Celis takes a spiteful and menacing turn. During the ultimate confrontation, it turns out that both of them have doubts about their different choices.
‘Bankvlees’ is another word for butcher’s scraps: the fatty, sinewy trimmings Celis incorporates into his meals. This is precisely how he sees himself and his friend, as the scraps of society. However, the narrator is not so categorical in his rejection of mainstream life, even if he finds it insipid and predictable. He concludes that as long as he has freedom of choice, his freedom is guaranteed.
With its laconic tone and adventurous episodic plot, Scraps reads like a polished picaresque novel, nevertheless, at the same time it also poses pertinent questions regarding the seemingly obvious choices people make between sticking to their principles and selling out, between freedom and self-denial.