Helga Ruebsamen

The Dancing Tomcat

A collection of charming cranks

‘What I just experienced must have been a hallucination. But what isn’t?’ mumbles Otto in the story ‘Model’. He’s a clerk who carries out meaningless work in the national archives in The Hague during the daytime but quenches his thirst in the evenings with alcohol and the poetic thoughts it gives him. The question as to what’s reality and what’s invention is brushed aside in several places in the book as an irrelevancy. What’s important is a good story and – to that end – those who turn their eyes and ears in nonstandard directions can find the necessary dark desires bubbling up in boring clerks, withered women of easy virtue and apparently good and upright wives and mothers.

We shouldn’t ask ourselves which bits are true. We get to see things like the sad Scheveningen boarding house Rida, a place civilized guests would pass by. It’s run by fat Aunt Rita and fat Uncle Daan but the ghost of the fine and vicious grandmother who once lived there still roams the house, and more than that: her old dresses and fans are still in the expansive cellars. Pretty toys for granddaughter Nancy who’s once more come to help in the pension. Uncle Daan is apathetic, he can’t even be bothered to drink. Much to the dissatisfaction of Nancy, who likes to play weird games with him in the cellar. When a new guest arrives at the pension he picks up. Nancy thinks she’s a long thin streak of misery, a Meryl Streep-like crybaby, but she’s the once famous pianist Maeve van Wees. Daan and Maeve are getting on like a house on fire until the spirit takes Nancy while wearing one of grandmother’s dresses. She thwarts an amorous meeting by appropriating the old tart’s false teeth from her bedroom. The shocked Maeve leaves the pension and Uncle Daan returns to bed a broken man but Nancy is in a good mood when her mother comes to pick her up.

Is there a moral to that fairy story or the five that follow it? Perhaps: the last laugh is reserved for those who listen to the old voices and breathe deeply of the mothball scent of old attics. They’ll still have a good story to tell when they’re old, even if nobody believes it. There’s only one way to respectfully greet the collection of strange oddballs in De dansende kater: hats off.

De Dansende kater contains a series of enthralling stories full of enigmatic and concealed unease.

De Groene Amsterdammer

Clever, decadent stories full of wonderful sentences and alluringly bad characters.

NRC Handelsblad

Ruebsamen doesn’t judge, she is sympathetic towards her characters and this sympathy is also conveyed to her readers.

Algemeen Dagblad


Helga Ruebsamen

Helga Ruebsamen was born in Batavia (present-day Djakarta) in 1934, when Indonesia was still called the Dutch East Indies. When she was six, her family moved to The Hague. Between 1964 and 1971, Ruebsamen published four books, after which no writing appeared from her hand for eighteen years. Then…

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De dansende kater (1992). Fiction, 168 pages.



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