Moving portrait of a neglected generation
Esther J. Ending’s debut Na Valentijn (After Valentine) is characterised by her convincing portrayal of troubled characters. The story is narrated by Rain, the daughter of an insecure and irresponsible hippie mother who epitomizes what Ending refers to as the self-indulgent ‘love generation.’ Rain is in her late twenties, a translator and lives with her sex-addict brother, Storm, whose bed she shares occasionally. Her sister Pillow is an alcoholic, her brother Forest smokes too many joints and her twin brother, Ocean, committed suicide eight years earlier.
These siblings, who share the same Dutch mother but were born of three different fathers, were raised in the south of Spain, where they endured abuse from their mother’s boyfriend, who battled alcohol and cocaine addiction. After a disastrous incident, the children were relocated to the Netherlands, placed with foster families and in children’s homes. Eventually they manage to establish new lives in Amsterdam. The central drama unfolds around Valentine’s Day, the anniversary of Ocean’s suicide. Eight years after his death, Pillow is shocked to see him seated on her sofa. Following this unsettling encounter, Storm and Forest grow increasingly concerned about Rain, who has no more than a vague suspicion of the meaning of this event, and doesn’t see the link between Ocean’s suicide and the day of his reappearance. During the days that follow, Rain goes off the rails: she drinks too much, knocks over glasses in a bar, and rows with her new boyfriend.
Ending gradually tightens the noose of oppression. Through subtle hints she makes it clear that there is, indeed, a link between Rain’s behaviour and Ocean’s suicide. After a heated confrontation, Storm and Forest let her in on the terrible secret.
In After Valentijn Ending paints a convincing, moving portrait of a neglected generation which grew up loveless but is capable of more solidarity and feeling than its parents’ generation – which preached love but put very little of it into practice.