The Big Delay
Entertaining rendering of recent history
The seductive promise of 1968 of change and prosperity gave way within fewer than ten years by the No future! slogan of the punks. Het grote uitstel (The Big Delay), which is set between 1976 and 1989, covers the aftermath of ’68. Marc Reugebrink couples the sexual revolution to its political counterpart, and, in doing so, has produced one of the most remarkable Dutch-language novels of 2007. It was awarded the Gouden Uil in 2008, the most important and best-known literary prize of Flanders.
The narrative perspective is a clever one with the reader consistently knowing more than the main character Daniël Winfried Rega, through whom the story unfolds. Daniël seems incapable of fully understanding what is happening to him. We follow him from schooldays, influenced by the left-wing spirit of the times in the ‘Che’ youth club somewhere in the Dutch backwoods, via his time as a vaguely Marxist student, through teacher training in Groningen, to adulthood with vague ambitions and blurred political ideals in West Berlin.
Rega sheds his radical plumage more as a consequence of his gullibility than opportunism. He has always been a fellow-traveller. He knows of left-wing guerrillas fighting in South America, of Ulrike Meinhof hanging herself in her cell in Stammheim, but he prefers to be involved with his girlfriend, his head trapped blissfully between her legs. It is only fitting that he should eventually end up working in a sex club in Berlin (admittedly displaying the ‘right’ colour: Das Rote Kabarett).
‘Rega was happy’: from this opening sentence Reugebrink manoeuvres skilfully to the end as the Wall falls on 9 November 1989. ‘And we, yes, we were happy that night, happy through and through. Yes, I believe so.’ Significantly, the final sentence has changed from singular to plural. Along the way he hilariously debunks the former ultra-left rhetoric, while not renouncing his ideals of greater equality and social justice, and implicitly raising questions about the essence of political and social engagement, and the Utopian aspect of literature.
Het grote uitstel is a successful serious and yet entertaining rendering of recent history, evoked with great precision (and by means of pop hits typical of the times, such as ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ by CSNY or Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, for example). A fascinating political novel.