Cees Nooteboom’s life has been all about travelling, reading and writing, and his oeuvre consists of travel stories as well as novels and poems. He has always been a superb stylist, observing the world with his special mixture of astonishment and melancholy, but until now Nooteboom has written little about his own life.
His new book, a mosaic of stories and recollections, is set mainly at the house on Menorca where for the past forty years the author has spent several months each summer. It stands at a place where ‘the road and the world stop’, where Nooteboom finds peace and quiet in his garden, among trees and palms, rocks and stray animals – including a cat that wandered in and has become a regular visitor ever since.
As summer ends and he prepares to leave, he gives the woman next door a mountain of cat food. ‘What she thinks of this we don’t know. Probably that we’re a pair of sentimental idiots who, out of all the hundreds of stray cats on the island, have selected this one for a life with its own house and staff.’ This empathy is typical of the way Nooteboom thinks and writes, as is his sense of perspective and way of animating nature: ‘Shade is great for people, but it’s not what an almond tree is after.’ Observations on the natural world develop into penetrating explorations of life in general.
With abundant winter rainfall the garden comes to life, only to revert to a desert when the gardener returns, as if it resents him for leaving. ‘Years passed before I could understand my garden, and bear the resentment my absence provoked in it.’ One thing about growing older, he writes, is that the time when everything in life was of enormous moment and consequence lies behind you for good. Friends die and the body sometimes refuses to cooperate, but for an author ageing has certain advantages, ‘just about everything evokes a memory.’ In Red Rain Nooteboom remembers, returning to the essentials and bringing together many of the themes of his work: friendship, travel and landscape, as well as inebriated postmen and forgotten brands of cigarette.
- Brilliant autobiographical reflections by the ‘father of Dutch travel literature’
- A melancholy and candid quest into an imagined past