Tongue Cat

A mirror palace of splintered stories:A literary tour de force of the first order

These days, the pursuit of perfection is all around us, a pursuit that is based on the notion that we can alter the world to suit us. But, according to recent theories, this view is untenable and perfect order always ultimately degenerates into chaos. In Tongue Cat, Peter Verhelst uses the various stories to describe how a city falls apart and comes to grief in chaos and violence.

The destructive powers are summoned by Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. In the novel, he swaps the mythical, primeval world, ruled by violence, for an earthly city, in which modernisation is taking place ever more rapidly and renewal has been elevated to the status of an aspiration – a caricature of the city in which we live.

Once having descended, Prometheus is taken in tow by Ulrike. She leads him to the slums of the city. Prometheus finds himself in an underground counterculture of squatters, junkies and whores. The latter are called tongue cats. But it is not only on the underbelly of society that the fire of resistance is smouldering, it is also brewing in the higher echelons, which becomes clear when the king leaves his palace in search of human warmth. Although the court continues to function for a while, opposition to his absence gradually increases and finally degenerates into a frenzy of chaos and violence. Order is an illusion. That ultimately also applies to the book itself. Naturally, the writer cannot escape the conclusion that his story world, too, forms a closed structure in which the fire of self-destruction is smouldering.

In the masterly final chapter, Verhelst lets the story, together with the city, burst apart at the seams. Tongkat is far more than a visionary novel about our society, it is a literary tour de force.

Verhelst takes metamorphosis, a narrative device as old as Prometheus himself, and breathes new life into it in a wonderful way.

Annemiek Neefjes, Vrij Nederland

Entices you in and lures you along, scorns logic and dissolves into a sparkling, shimmering void.

Paul Demets, Knack

It is not to be judged by the accepted criteria of good and bad, beautiful and ugly. It simply is. But, My God, what a lot that is.

Hans Goedkoop, NRC Handelsblad



Tongkat (1999). Fiction, 342 pages.
Copies sold: 18,000



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