A new highlight in Lanoye’s oeuvre

Tom Lanoye’s successful and well- received novel, Sprakeloos (Speechless), tells the story of the life and death of the author’s parents, particularly his mother’s. It starts with an appealing lament about the effort it took him to write about them, questioning his methods and the result. The main theme of the story that follows is the final years of his mother’s life.

After a thrombosis, she suffers aphasia and behavioural problems and never recovers sufficiently to be able to live at home. New attacks make her entirely dependent on help. Her son, the author, is deeply touched by her loss of speech, which – as an amateur actress – had been so dear to her, and his impotent anger at this from time to time makes his story a ‘song of curses’. In compensation – and as a grateful and moving homage – he reconstructs her life in the abundance of language that used to be hers. José, as the mother was called, is depicted as a flamboyant, domineering and controlling woman who, investing great effort in her family and their butcher’s shop, always strove for everyone’s respectability, reputation and well-being, resorting, from time to time, to dramatic scenes and shrewd manipulation to get her way.

Among her most difficult experiences were, according to Lanoye, the fatal car accident that killed her one ‘difficult’ son, and the disclosure that her youngest son, the author, is homosexual. Lanoye tells of the ups and downs of family life in a good-natured, sometimes humorous fashion. The description of his mother’s decline and death is, however, incredibly moving.

This is an ‘unadorned account’, an informal, honest testimony of a mother by her son, in which much is in what is not mentioned: good nature, gratitude, endearment, closeness. At the same time, Lanoye reflects on the actual function of writing and the vital importance of language in these circumstances. In a wider context, Sprakeloos is about a personal experience recognisable to everyone, woven into a lively fresco of a generation, a period, a life style, with astonishing brush strokes of la flandre profonde, masterful in its popular realism and the richness of its language.

An exorcist ritual in text, the sometimes heart-rending account of an attempt to let go.

HP / De Tijd

Full of love and admiration, yet quivering like raw meat.

De Standaard

Speechless far transcends the purely biographical story of a mother. It has become the portrait of a generation, of family life in the sixties and seventies.

HP / De Tijd


Sprakeloos (2009). Fiction, 359 pages.



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