Gerard van Emmerik

The Chicken Boy

Drowning in love and jealousy

Noor, an intelligent, artistic young woman, decides to marry Lucas, a solitary chicken farmer twice her age with the mind of a child. The match is not nearly as improbable as it seems. When Noor was a child, she left her younger brother unattended, and he drowned. In Lucas’s love for her, she hopes to rediscover her brother’s childlike innocence. Meanwhile, Lucas is looking for a mother to give him the affection that his own mother withheld.

Van Emmerik infuses new life into this transparently oedipal scenario with a fresh and surprising approach, describing the relationship between Noor and Lucas as if they really were mother and son, in bizarrely literal terms.

They become inseparable, often to comic effect – for example, when Lucas is worried sick because Noor comes home ten minutes late from running errands. As in much of his earlier work, Van Emmerik introduces a dramatic twist that turns the situation on its head. In De kippenjongen (The Chicken Boy), this is the birth of a child after twenty years of marriage. It’s an improbable turn of events, and Lucas is not the biological father. The child, Jimmy, drives the two spouses apart; Lucas is no longer the most important person in Noor’s life.

In short sentences, Van Emmerik conjures up a sinister, oppressive atmosphere of underlying tension and unexpressed feelings of love and jealousy. Through repetition and narrative echoes, the author emphasizes how suffocating love can be.

Although De kippenjongen takes place in the Dutch countryside, the characters are trapped as if in a Greek tragedy as the web of the story closes in around them. Yet it remains a mystery how this tale will end. Lucas manages a kind of escape, but through his self-inflicted death – an act of both jealousy and love – he sends a message to his illegitimate son. A message intended to convince Noor of his perfect love for her, and to give Jimmy a chance to escape from his mother’s stifling grasp.

Van Emmerik has no equal when showing how a psychological disorder can hold a family in its grip… The charged atmosphere is reminiscent of authors like Truman Capote and William Faulkner.

Haarlems Dagblad

The deeply religious Veluwe region provides the bleak backdrop for this irresistible, almost magical story, which pulls you right in.


A beautiful expression of loneliness, longing and love.

De Gazet van Antwerpen

Gerard van Emmerik

Gerard van Emmerik (b. 1955) grew up in the rural Veluwe region. He made his debut in 1993 with the collection of short stories Iets scherps, een priem (Something Sharp, An Awl). Other collections followed, and he published novels such as Mischa’s koorts (Mischa’s Fever; 1998) en De verzachters

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De kippenjongen (2011). Fiction, 224 pages.


Nieuw Amsterdam

Johannes Vermeerstraat 63
1071 DN Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 570 61 00
Fax: +31 20 570 61 99

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