Maxim Februari

The Literary Circle

Brilliant indictment of the ‘backyard network’

Thirty-year-old Theresa Pellikaan is typical of the wealthy middle classes - with her respectable background, successful husband and house in an apparently sleepy, yet powerful, rich village. ‘Money is what you have, it isn’t for talking about,’ she feels, and art is a spiritual occupation.

Her former schoolmate Ruth Ackermann, brought up in the same village, has made waves with an international bestseller, yet none of the villagers ever mention her achievement, not even the literary circle of Theresa’s father, famous civil rights scholar Randolf Pellikaan. The circle isn’t interested: they only read ‘literature’.

But there’s a dark secret in the village. Slowly it emerges that the bestselling author’s father, a former member of the literary circle, was the deputy director of a company which supplied contaminated glycerine to Haiti. Not knowing what to do with the contaminated consignment, he had turned to his highplaced friends for advice - thereby making them accomplices.

Februari brings to light a shameful episode in Dutch history. In the nineties the Alphen company, Vos bv, deliberately supplied heavily contaminated glycerine to Haiti, which was then used in cough syrup, resulting in the death of seventy children and leaving dozens handicapped. The case was settled, and even though the Public Prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute has been challenged several times, it has never been reopened.

In De literaire kring (The Literary Circle) Februari paints a dark picture of the right-minded class society in the Netherlands in which such things can happen. It is an indictment of the ‘backyard network’ where there’s always someone whose backyard borders on yours who can help. ‘You don’t have principles, you have a network,’ one of Februari’s characters says to Randolf.

This novel is about looking away, ‘Not doing your job, keeping your mouth shut, looking the other way, referring to regulations you know are wrong, hiding behind superiors whom you know don’t give a shit about the world.’ A modern social critique, De literaire kring is a fluent novel full of irony, playing masterfully with the conventions of chicklit and women’s thrillers. Februari draws on a variety of sources, from the Oprah Winfrey Show to works by Aristophanes. Ironically, the novel has appeared on countless reading lists of reading clubs in rich Dutch villages.

To illustrate her sombre thesis, Februari draws on the entire cultural spectrum and points as readily to the sex boycott in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata as to the advice of Oprah’s one-time sidekick Dr. Phil. This combination of erudition and breeziness makes The Literary Circle an extremely enjoyable book. Despite the seriousness of the subject, it is light in tone, refined in its humour.

De Volkskrant

Just give me the elegant and slightly unworldly Teresa, the true heroine of the book, not only because she likes the unrivalled poet Stevie Smith (and indeed Audrey Hepburn), but above all because in her, rage, despair and powerlessness are depicted in a bitter and unrivalled manner.

De Groene Amsterdammer

The brilliance of this novel lies not only in its perfectly calculated hilarity and irresistible scenes. Februari conjures up an intriguing world, which she immediately confronts with a parody. That’s whats called the absolute grip of a consummate novelist.

De Volkskrant

The restrained yet at the same time intense way she gives us a picture of life in an apparently safe corner of Dutch society makes The Literary Circle a truly exceptional novel.

Brabants Dagblad


Maxim Februari

Maxim Februari (b. 1963) is a writer and judicial philosopher. He is interested in the influence of technology on law, politics and policymaking. He is the author of acclaimed novels (Lump and The Book Club), essays and columns. The Making of A Man: Notes on Transsexuality was published in English…

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De literaire kring (2007). Fiction, 254 pages.

Sample translation

English (PDF document)



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