Children love dens and caves, hidden places where you can hide away in safety; tree houses have a particular appeal. Adults aren’t quick to follow you up there, of course, and it also reverses the roles rather nicely: finally the adult has to look up at you for once. In Wolf, the new book by Martha Heesen, Nene and her friend Coppe each have their own branch of the tree. But they’re missing a roof over their heads. So Coppe goes looking for a piece of corrugated iron and in the dark he ends up under a motorbike.
He doesn’t come home for months and, when he does, he’s changed. He doesn’t seem interested in tree houses any more, and not even in Nene. And certainly not after he’s given Wolf the dog as a consolation. Nene is scared of the animal and she’s also jealous. During a forbidden outing, they go swimming in the river and Wolf is dragged away by the current.
Nene feels guilty and in the middle of the night she goes looking for the dog. She finds Wolf in the watery woods, conquers her fear and carries the animal home. Everything that is to be commended about this book centres upon its simplicity: Wolf is a story with a simple plot, developed in a straightforward manner and written in plain language. The nighttime journey to the dangerous woods is not firstly about the spectacular undertaking, with rumbling thunder and slurping swampland. For Heesen, the way people react to an event is more fascinating than the event itself. So it’s all about Nene’s feelings, particularly the dreadful combination of fear, jealousy and guilt. And so the search for Wolf becomes one that delivers repentance, effects a victory and brings about a reconciliation.
Wolf is an accessible story, written with attention for the smallest details and involving good, old-fashioned reflection on events. And just as children like it: everything ends up as it should be and so at the end Coppe climbs back into the tree and the new design for the tree house is ready. And this time it includes a dog lift for Wolf.
By Harm de Jonge