My Heavenly Favourite
International Booker Prize winner impresses with a horrific and captivating novel about a forbidden love
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s second novel tells the story of a forbidden love. An aging livestock veterinarian and a fourteen-year-old girl with a vivid imagination engage in a macabre dance as they explore their identity and sexuality. The novel is gruesome, intense and makes for deeply uncomfortable reading, but it is also moving, captivating, addictive – unputdownable.
Only twenty-nine years old, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a preternaturally gifted writer. They added ‘Lucas’ to their name to reflect their non-binary gender identity. Both their poetry and prose have garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards, with the highlight being the 2020 International Booker Prize for The Discomfort of Evening, Michele Hutchison’s English translation of Rijneveld’s debut novel.
Their second novel grabs hold of the reader from the opening line. My Heavenly Favourite is one, dark, churning current of language, with chapters without a single line break and meandering sentences that run on for a page and a half. Rijneveld seamlessly moves between different registers. The story is filled with references to Dutch luminaries such as Gerard Reve and Jan Wolkers, but also alludes to the magical lyrics of Kurt Cobain and Kate Bush, Nabokov’s Lolita and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which Rijneveld read in secret growing up in a very religious family, copying out the first volume in its entirety by hand.
My Heavenly Favourite’s great strength is its narrative perspective. The story is told by the livestock veterinarian, ‘the child molester’ who, in his yearning for innocence and purity, grows obsessed with the tomboy with the wheat-blonde hair and the pitch-black imagination. He creeps inexorably into her imagination, her language, her mind and her body. In the very first sentence, the veterinarian warns us that he should have ‘taken a paring knife and incised [her] like a sore in a claw horn’. But he doesn’t.