Again and Again and Again
A quirky amalgamation of various genres
In Opnieuw en opnieuw en opnieuw (Again and Again and Again) young Flemish writer Joost Vandecasteele just as easily refers to works from the German Romantic Movement as to modern authors of raw, realistic prose. The cover of the fifties comic True Crime, reproduced within the first pages of his novel is such a reference, as is also his own description of his novel as ‘A hard-boiled neo Spartan love tragedy’.
In our internet age, combining references as diverse as these is called ‘branding’, and unsurprisingly, the novel has already found its way on to digital social networks, where identity is a combination of brands and programs. Seen from this perspective, Vandecasteele’s novel is a quirky amalgamation of comics, graphic novels, fantasy and popular adaptations of the classics. More specifically, it is reminiscent of the film version of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series Sin City (2005).
The story is set in a timeless present, while containing elements of both past and future. In three chapters – Vandecasteele calls them ‘volumes’ – we read about Penny, a prostitute from Neo-Sparta, whose counterpart is Alex, a married policeman. Alex and Penny start as lovers, and end up as rivals. Penny has built a criminal network – working with terrorist organisations, she leads a plundering army of prostitutes – which is attacked by Alex’s police force. When that happens, the women see no other option than to commit suicide. Only Penny escapes.
Years later, Alex rediscovers his former lover helped by the clairvoyant powers of a young woman who hasn’t slept since she was a little girl. But there is no happy end to this grim story. Opnieuw en opnieuw en opnieuw is an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation and, many written and film versions later, is hard to reduce to its original form. This novel is new, but harkens back to the old. Funny and raw yet thrilling, it is curious to find stories from different centuries bundled into a single novel.