Mrs Verona Comes Down from the Hill
With Mevrouw Verona daalt de heuvel af, a subdued, sensitive novella, Dimitri Verhulst adds a new dimension to his work. Years ago, Mrs Verona and her husband, both of them musicians, moved to a hill outside the village of Oucwègne. Then Mr Verona took ill, built up a vast woodpile for his wife, and hung himself from a tree.
The widow decides to have a cello made from wood from the pile, but because it needs to dry out extremely slowly, the instrument will take twenty years to make. In the meantime, her dogs keep her company.
The village slowly falls into decline, and the forty remaining residents get by on what little that they have. The local female vet also acts as doctor. The young men start up a table football competition in a shabby canteen. The manageress of the village shop sells goods that have long passed their expiry date, but she also gives generous credit.
After the death of her husband, the bachelors in the village hope to catch Mrs Verona’s eye. Before they pluck up the courage to make a move, they wait patiently for a signal that the widow is ready to begin a new life. It never comes. On a cold February day, when Mrs Verona has placed her last log in the stove, she descends the path to the village with her faithful dog, in the knowledge that she will never have the energy to climb the hill again.
Dimitri Verhulst brings the rundown village to life with exceptional simplicity and authenticity. The extraordinary care he devotes to his written style allows the leisurely narrative pace to harmonize with the development of the story, and creates the scope for an appealing geniality and intimisme. Mild irony lurks beneath the salient formulation, lodging the evoked emotions in an attractive field of tension. Mrs Verona Comes Down from the Hill is a modest but discerning literary masterwork.