In his first book Jongstra drowns the unsuspecting reader in a confusion of fact and fiction, questionable footnotes, curious illustrations and - for the first time in Dutch fiction - an index of names. But while De psychologie van de zwavel (‘The Psychology of the Sulphur’) is above all an old-fashioned attempt to break free from the influence of previous authors and to form an individual style, in Groente Jongstra has succeeded in standing on his own two feet.
The reader has to pull out all the stops to keep up with the narrative: Jongstra is one of those writers who believe they have to irritate the reader, to goad them into questioning what they are reading and to let them pleasantly lose their way in the text.
And in Groente the reader is confronted with the most unusual quotations. The book has 95 chapters with titles such as ‘Fresh peas’, ‘Sins against lettuce’ and ‘Radish as item’. This makes the book look like a vegetable garden with countless meandering towpaths. The main character is an old man who has shut himself up in his vegetable garden and tries to recall his memories and put them into context. A difficult process, especially since he tends to mix fantasy with fact. Let the reader be warned: stories about love, about radishes and cauliflowers (sometimes accompanied by suspiciously authentic-looking tables) and about capuchin monks follow each other in quick succession. All this under the Dutch poet Martinus Nijhoffs motto: “Every person is a gardener; every person is a digger.” In other words: each of us tries to cultivate his own garden of memories and to plant new things on top. The danger is that you shut yourself up. This is what happens to the main character. Calling up memories is all about telling stories. But these tend to lead a life of their own and what really happened is hard to tell. In the end this lonely vegetable freak is left defeated in his library, unable to find the magic word: “What is the point of all the loops and dashes in a person’s handwriting? Surely there is something attractive about a straight line on the screen of a bleeping monitor.”
The view of reality is necessarily hazy. The search for the essence of things leads not to the source but to a bottomless drop. That is the conclusion of the hero, the inspiration of the writer. Doubt, uncertainty and mistrust of figures, facts and acknowledged data stimulate the fantasy and the lust for invention. The reader can feel the writer’s pleasure. All certainties are destroyed except one: that this is a very special book and a very special writer.