Bigger than the Sky, Worse than the Sun
A touching account of a dreamy loner with a head full of wild fantasies and a longing for more space
In this story, told through the voice of twelve-year-old Elmer Noorland, Daan Remmerts de Vries presents an incredibly strong psychological portrait of a troubled young man. Rarely has such a realistic, intriguing and unforgettable character as this Elmer appeared in a children’s book. Remmerts de Vries shows a deft touch, maintaining a light tone in his diary story, with its awkward, boyish style, while making a sincere, heartrending plea for individuality and freedom.
“You can do anything, absolutely ANYTHING, as long as it stays inside your head. That, and that alone, is what freedom means. Maybe the only freedom you’ll get. Freedom means: I can think whatever I like.”
This may sound obvious, but it certainly isn’t to Elmer. After a flying ladle hits him on the forehead during a summer camp on the Dutch island of Vlieland, he locks himself away with the thoughts that are always echoing around his mind, but then “the usual buzzing” turns into a distinct voice inside his head. Lomax, as the voice calls itself, offers comfort, but at the same time is very forceful, gradually taking hold of Elmer. When school begins again, Lomax drags him even deeper into a surreal abyss. Elmer becomes trapped in a downward spiral of dark thoughts and paranoia. This culminates in his decision to deal with the biggest loudmouth and bully in the class once and for all, but then the situation really gets out of hand.
In a painfully vivid image, “cobwebs upon cobwebs of loneliness” fall on Elmer, suffocating him. And Elmer’s question about what “normal” actually means is a very thought-provoking one. “Every film and almost every book teaches you that you should fight back,” Elmer remarks. But when you’re actually being bullied, your parents and teachers say the opposite. “Don’t fight back. Just report it. And leave it at that.” Adults don’t really know what they’re talking about, Elmer concludes.
Does Elmer win his personal battle for freedom? The fact that his story ends back on the island of Vlieland, where there’s plenty of space for his joyfully anarchic adventures, is both significant and hopeful.