Marie Kessels


Rendering the invisible visible

Marie Kessels writes novels set inside the often fickle minds of her protagonists who are willing to go to any length to defend their autonomy. The subject of this new novel is blindness. Gemma, the protagonist, is injured in a traffic accident which leaves her sight permanently damaged. ‘It happened so fast that I can hardly remember it. A terrible moment before the blow, then the ear-splitting sound as of an explosion, a noise in which my pain (which must have been there) was lost.’

The novel’s short, poignant chapters describe how Gemma tries to rebuild her life. Now excluded from the world in which she is visible to others, she sets out to map it on nocturnal walks through the neighbourhood during which she registers every tile and drainpipe she passes. She thus discovers a new city, a ‘new nocturnal universe’. But she doesn’t only use her sense of touch, she also asks others to read to her and she learns Braille, using her new skills to read Blindness by Jose Saramago, The Light that Failed by Rudyard Kipling and Touching the Rock by John Hull. The old blues singer, Blind Willie McTell, also fascinates her.

Kessels has always been a sensitive and sensual author and, in this novel, she immerses the reader in the effect of invisibility - the smell of rain in the air, or how the sounds of a busy city can evoke a panorama. The tone of the novel is, however, never melancholy or plaintive, rather it is lighthearted with determination fairly jumping off its pages. As always with Kessels, the story is not in the plot but in the imaginative details and original ideas - now formulated by Gemma. Ruw (‘Rough’) does what literature should: render the invisible visible.

Ruw is more than a novel evoking what it is like to become blind. In some senses, it is also a plea for better reading, slower reading and for the pleasure this provides.

Het Parool

Kessels manages to maintain a wonderful balance between being a victim and being determined, between being hopeless and being optimistic, and between being resigned and being assertive.

NRC Handelsblad

This novel’s victory is the alienation which Ruw imposes on the reader. Do we ever look properly, considering that Gemma shows us that you can experience so much more using smell, taste, hearing and touch? […] This novel is a gem.

De Volkskrant

Marie Kessels

Boa, the 1991 debut novel of Marie Kessels (b. 1954), is about a young woman who locks herself into her own house for one summer. Kessels followed this with Een sierlijke duik (‘A Graceful Dive’, 1993). Her third novel, De god met gouden ballen (‘The God with Golden Balls’, 1995) was…

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Ruw (2009). Fiction, 207 pages.

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


De Bezige Bij

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