About fraternal love and growing up
The Spenglers are a well-to-do family from the province of Twente. They own landed estates, have several cars and servants, go hunting in their own woods, and in the early afternoon settle down to drinks around the open fire. Frederik Spengler, the narrator of the novel, grows up with his four brothers, all of them cut from the same cloth: they like fighting and joshing, they hide their feelings but stand behind each other to a man (that too is Spengler’s Law). The family moves to Belgium, where after a while the father commits suicide.
The father’s death does not seem the most important element of the story that describes, in the first part of the book, the brothers’ childhood and their coming to adulthood in an eccentric milieu. But it certainly presages what awaits them many years later when they are adults: the oldest brother, Julius, the one they all looked up to most, the one who always did what no one else dared to do, discovers he has an incurable form of cancer. His sudden departure leaves a sense of emptiness behind that only Frederik is capable of putting into words.
Jaap Scholten is a born writer, with a meticulous, classical style, and he knows how to construct a story that convinces from beginning to end. Take the opening sentence: ‘It was the time in which it became clear that Putin had the West by the balls with his gas reserves, the time when you could be certain of snow only in the highest ski resorts and the time that, thanks to the mild winters with their abnormally long motorcycling seasons, practically the whole of Europe had a surplus of donor organs.’ De wet van Spengler (Spengler’s Law) is a novel about fraternal love and growing up, a sequel to Scholten’s much praised debut. It demonstrates what Scholten is best at: describing the milieu in which he was raised, one that in literary terms lies somewhere between Buddenbrooks and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The portrait of Julius, forced to fight an unequal battle, is deeply poignant. Just before Julius dies the brothers kiss one another, for the first time in their lives, and in the closing scene they fire a salute to their dead brother with their hunting rifles. An appropriate departure for an impressive novel.