A riveting debut about motocross, mink farms and a legacy of dark family secrets
A rural novel with Quentin Tarantino vibes: in this superb debut, Wilbrink juxtaposes city and country, animal activists and poachers, sinners and believers, idealists and crooks. Will Isa Keller manage to break away from her violent family and the region of her birth, a place governed by laws all of its own? Or will history repeat itself and fate intervene?
‘All I’m saying is, it seems to me things were going wrong with Tom Keller already when those two uncles of his took him out in the woods at night and had him do things a nine-year-old boy has no business doing yet.’ Every village has its heroes and traumas. Tom Keller embodies both. He grows up in the most notorious family in the region, in a world defined by Sunday church services, annual funfairs, mink farms and other shady enterprises. From the moment he trades a poached rabbit for a moped, his fate is sealed: he will be an illustrious motocross rider. He soon becomes a local legend, the pride and joy of his town and his callous uncles, whom he thinks he’ll finally escape when he is acquired by a British manager. Yet it’s right at this breakthrough moment in his career that fate strikes and he has a bad fall. Only the narrator – still unidentified at this point – knows the details of his accident.
Years later, when Tom goes missing, his daughter Isabella is forced to return home. A student of art history in Utrecht, she spends her time with animal rights activists, punks and squatters, taking pains to hide her family history. To find her father, she has to face her past: not only her own drug addiction and her violent uncles, but also their wives, who remain silent or make excuses for them – one of whom turns out to be the narrator. Gradually Isa discovers what is hidden behind the ‘dirty, disgusting fables’ that are making the rounds about her family, and she finds out that the dogmatic activists in the progressive city aren’t all that different from the conservative villagers.
The Animals is a breathtaking debut full of dramatic plot twists that drive the story forward, with Isa’s moving coming-of-age as the red thread. With an ominous atmosphere, local dialect and vividly descriptive prose, set in a borderland as dark as it is true-to-life, this is the work of a gifted storyteller.