Under the Pavement the Morass
De tandeloze tijd 3, tweede boek
After the appearance of the first parts of his cycle of novels De tandeloze tijd (The Toothless Time), A.F.Th. van der Heijden was heralded ‘the voice of his generation’ and a king among chroniclers. Now that these two massive books which record the seventies have appeared, the jubilant critics and readers leave no room for doubt – Van der Heijden is not only the greatest writer of his generation but also an author whose literary aims go far beyond the description of the Zeitgeist.
In the first two parts of the cycle the similarities between the main character Albert Egberts (1950) and the author (1951) are obvious: both grew up in Brabant and attended Nijmegen University, both moved to Amsterdam halfway through their studies. In Part Three it becomes clear that this is the point where their paths diverge. Albert, who is trying to arrange his life according to the philosphical principle of ‘living life full scale’ (escaping linear time by simultaneously participating in as much as possible), becomes addicted to heroin. The other characters also opt for rigorous solutions to their longing for resistance and their desire to reinvest life with real colours, smells and tastes in a time of excess and uneasiness. In the morass which Van der Heijden exposes beneath the pavements of Amsterdam, murder, alcoholism, racism, rape and child pornography are the order of the day. Albert’s friends Flix and Thjum seek an intermediary path between visual art and theatre, and do it so hyper-realistically that one of them does not survive.
One thousand four hundred pages, split up into a torrent of chapters of ten or so pages, each of which follows one character: this breathtaking composition allows Van der Heijden to view a single day from a multiplicity of perspectives and thus stretch out time. He succeeds in achieving what his characters just long for: the listless seventies are dissected and restructured until they begin to stink and sparkle. The writer dispenses his dazzling analogies with unrestrained generosity. His expressive style even manages to uncover a spark of poetry in the horrors he describes. Van der Heijden succeeds in putting a face to the toothless times. Working class hero Albert Egberts dreams of an authorship in which he feverishly pursues words. That his compulsive need for intensification, so typical of his generation, is elevated to mythical and archetypal proportions is wholly due to his spiritual father’s dedication to his art.