Music as a restful haven – this is the theme we encounter in both Anna Enquist’s poetry and in her novels. Her first novel, Het meesterstuk (The Masterpiece), followed the storyline of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and her second novel, Het geheim (The Secret), is composed and conducted like a piece of music. Three storylines run through the book like themes in a composition, sometimes merging, sometimes overlapping, and sometimes going in completely different directions: the story of Wanda, the story of her past and the story of Bouw, the man she left.
Concert pianist Wanda Wiericke sees music as a way of escaping reality. It is her answer to questions about her place in the world: ‘An answer in which the question dissolves.’ It is so important to her that, when forced to choose, she even leaves her husband for it. But after Wanda’s mother literally spits up ‘the secret’ on her deathbed, Wanda is no longer able to withdraw into music. A rheumatic disorder prevents her from playing. She is forced to face the facts, and retreats to the Pyrenees, where she doesn’t touch a piano again until she has come to terms with her past.
Everything in Het geheim is interwoven with piano playing; also the imagery is derived from music. Bouw is described as ‘Schumann’s toccata: strong, compact, overflowing with power’. Enquist originally trained as a pianist and everything she says about piano playing also applies to her writing. She writes the way Wanda plays: entering a composition by touch, ‘prepared to wander in any direction, ready to find meaning in the most unlikely places’. Enquist’s novel is a quest for insight, it works towards a catharsis. She offers no easy solutions. The book’s climax doesn’t come with the revelation of the secret, but in the process of coming to terms with it.