A Spanish Dog
Longing and the madness it can lead to
Though her choice of subject is anything but everyday, Rascha Peper writes clear and compelling fiction. Her style turns the unusual into something ordinary, or better still, it incorporates the unusual into the ordinary. In the first part of Een Spaans hondje, we meet the brothers Victor, Jasper, and Felix. Their mother died recently; their father has been dead for a long time. Madness and lunacy are lurking under the surface of what seems at first glance to be a moving family story, and the writer has, characteristically, a number of surprises up her sleeve as the plot unfolds.
At the centre of the novel is the question of one’s relationship to life, and the family is rather divided on this issue. Father, who died young, had been a successful architect. Jasper is a modern-day manager and pleasure-seeker, whereas Felix, the mathematician, suffers from La Tourette’s syndrome and has found peace in his search for theories and abstractions. Victor, vainly trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, is the only one who cannot find his niche. In his work as a designer of follies–costly ornamental buildings, not serving any actual purpose–and sand castles intended to promote his brother Jasper’s business, he can find no real satisfaction. Having had an earlier spell in a psychiatric clinic, he again breaks down and this time disappears without a trace.
Victor appears to have sought refuge in Spain, where he is collaborating on a cathedral being built completely of recycled waste. This cathedral is for him something between a folly and a sand castle, reconciling him to an existence in which death plays a part. In an age in which the stock answers to the question of the meaning of life have been rejected, the longing for something higher is more acute than ever: something not subject to the here and now, not governed by the constricting normalcy we are left with when deprived of any metaphysical perspective whatsoever. The simple power of Rascha Peper’s novel lies in its ability to evoke this longing–and the madness it can lead to – as something completely normal, something that can happen to anyone. And for this her book deserves praise.