Gerbrand Bakker

The Twin

A gem of a first novel

Gerbrand Bakker’s Boven is het stil (The Twin) is ostensibly a book about the countryside, as seen through the eyes of a farmer, but in the end it’s about such universal matters as the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one’s own hands.

It was always the twins, Henk and Helmer, in that order. When father’s boy, Henk, died in a car accident, there was no way Helmer could continue his studies in Dutch language and literature. He resigned himself to taking over his brother’s role on the farm and spending the rest of his days ‘with his head under a cow’. The announcement ‘I put Father upstairs’ not only marks the beginning of the novel but also heralds the transformation which the main character is to undergo. After his old, worn-out father has been transferred upstairs, Helmer sets about furnishing the rest of the house according to his own minimal preferences. ‘A double bed and a duvet’, advises Ada, who lives next door, with a sly look. So that’s what he buys. Then Riet appears on the scene, the woman who was once engaged to marry his twin brother. Helmer briefly entertains the illusion that she has returned for him. Actually, she’s come back for Henk: her son Henk, that is.

Could he live with them for a while, on the farm? The arrival of the boy has repercussions: not only in bringing about suppressed eroticism, but also in rousing Helmer’s manifest loneliness, for soon he will be completely alone. Henk leaves, to Helmer’s great relief, and at last the old father dies. In the final part of the novel, Helmer and the old hired hand Jaap - the only person who’d ever taken any notice of him - are in Denmark, the ‘promised land’. He’s standing on a pebbly beach as the sun sets.

Boven is het stil is an impressive first novel. Bakker’s style is lucid and spare. He writes sentences like ‘He talked, I listened. It was a typical Henk-and-Helmer evening, and not vice-versa.’ He also has a dry sense of humour. The landscape, the weather - which is everywhere - are all succinctly captured: ‘A drizzle is not much more than fog with delusions of grandeur’.

This is a quiet book, humble in tone, with a fine, self-deprecating humour […] It leaves the reader touched and with the impression of having seen and smelled the ever-damp Dutch platteland

Times Literary Supplement

Bakker captures the feel of life in the Dutch countryside in a style which is both dazzling and subdued. He has produced a poignant story, recounted in a tone at once spare and loving.

De Volkskrant

After finishing Boven is het stil, all the reader can say is: here is a true writer. We look forward to his next book.

Het Parool

Bakker is above all a gifted stylist. His dialogue is exemplary, and the descriptions of nature have a natural charm worthy of Nescio. It is a long time since we’ve taken such pleasure in a genuinely Dutch novel.



Gerbrand Bakker

Gerbrand Bakker (b. 1962) is a novelist, diarist and columnist who broke through in 2006 with Boven is het stil (The Twin), which won three prizes in his native Netherlands and another five abroad, most notably the Dublin Literary Award. It has been translated into 24 languages. In 2013 Bakker also…

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Boven is het stil (2006). Fiction, 264 pages.



Kerkstraat 361
NL - 1017 HW Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 528 99 11
Fax: +31 20 528 99 12

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