Fortunately We’re Powerless

Indefinable fear

Ivo Victoria’s second novel, Gelukkig zijn we machteloos (Fortunately We’re Powerless, 2011), is set during a family celebration. The pretence of family solidarity that the elderly mother and her three children try to maintain cannot disguise the tensions between them. Then there is the indefinable fear caused by the recent disappearance of several young girls and the mysterious white noise that people keep hearing.

The house has extra security, the garden is fenced, yet the family suddenly discovers that fourteen-year-old adopted granddaughter Billie is missing, as is their old family friend Uncle Lex, a former clergyman. All kinds of clues lead to suspicions and assumptions. In reality Billie has escaped from the oppressive gathering out into the fields nearby, Uncle Lex has gone to check she’s alright and during a storm she is struck by lightning. Uncle Lex returns to the house distraught, Billie’s body limp in his arms.

A strange scene opens the book. As Lex carries the unconscious (or dead?) Billie he is accompanied by a gannet. By fragmenting the chronology of his story, Ivo Victoria creates intriguing effects. He also adds a refined symbolism to unusual elements of the story at suitable moments: like gannets, people struggle to take off from the ground to escape their anxiety in free flight. And although appearances point to Uncle Lex as a suspect, he turns out to be the only person striving for a rational interpretation of the atmosphere of fear and insecurity: ‘The world is neutral. We make it tragic by being unable to accept it the way it is. Our own spirit is a trap.’

The feigned cheerfulness of the family, the ambiguity of the characters’ banal behaviour and the gathering storm all suggest something terrible is about to happen. Combined with the suggestive style of the book, this ominous tension keeps the reader spellbound. Ivo Victoria plays a shrewdly manipulative game with his readers, who eventually, soberingly, recognize distorted perception and blatant prejudice in themselves.

With his second novel, Victoria takes a wide sweep and succeeds in capturing the fear and desperation of modern life in singing prose.

Het Parool

An intelligent, fragmented nightmare about the ‘bitter fruits of human imagination’. Viva Victoria.

De Standaard


Gelukkig zijn we machteloos (2011). Fiction, 242 pages.

Sample translation

English (PDF document)


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