Impressive, imaginative and moving
Since her debut De waterdame (The Water Lady), a collection of short stories, Rascha Peper has steadily published stories, novels and novellas that are strikingly controlled and lucid. Her reputation continues to grow among both the critics and the general reading public. With Embarkation (Wie scheep gaat), a broadly structured novel in which various lifelines intersect, her craftsmanship is definitively proved.
The book is about a woman who seems, puzzlingly, to have vanished, sealed in a shipwreck somewhere on the seabed, and mourned in The Hague and in New York. In the ‘flower district’ of The Hague, fifteen-year-old Emma identifies with her vanished aunt. In Manhattan, her former lover Gerard shuffles around ‘like a corpse, but of a different nature, a living corpse’.
With great affection, the writer zooms in alternately on the budding femme fatale and the cautious, bruised scientist. Their respective experiential worlds are sketched vividly and imaginatively, as are their loved ones and tormentors. Peper’s approach is empathetic, psychologically realistic, compassionate, and, occasionally, mildly derisory, and humour shines through in several subsidiary character sketches, including one of a gentleman in a pinstriped suit who yearns for ladies’ underwear.
The force of Peper’s writing lies in the sharpness of her observation and the precision of her style: it’s sometimes as if this is the film of the novel. She easily succeeds in holding the fascination going the whole five hundred pages: what did actually happen there on the seabed? At the same time she places the human condition in a melancholy light that will haunt the reader for a long time.