Oek de Jong
Pier and Ocean
An expansive family history set against the backdrop of post-war reconstruction
In this monumental novel, Oek de Jong tells the story of Dina Houttuyn and her son, Abel Roorda. He shows that no one is born without a history and that our lives are influenced by those of our parents and ancestors. This portrayal of the still sober mentality of the post-war Netherlands is painted in a evocative style, with strong, atmospheric scenes.
The novel begins with a pregnant Dina’s flight from the southern provincial town where her husband has been doing his military service. One morning she comes across her landlady half-naked and flees north, to Amsterdam, shocked by her own reaction. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn what has turned her into the woman who will become Abel’s mother in part two.
Housed with a Frisian pastor’s family during the war, she falls in love with one of the son’s friends. Four years later she is pregnant. It is almost a deliberate choice to put an end to her uncertainty about her sexual orientation, which first came to light in the orphanage where she worked after the war. She was happy there, glad to escape her parents’ clutches. That happiness came to an end though, when the matron, Elena, fell in love with her and seduced her.
Dina finally grows accustomed to life with a narcissistic husband who does not understand her. Abel sees his mother as a conflicted woman who feels trapped from all sides but powerless to free herself. His father’s vanity does not escape him either. With an adolescent indifference, he rebels, searching for freedom.
Abel’s first infatuations, his cool, distant friendships, his mooching around during endless summer holidays – all these scenes seem to echo De Jong’s masterful debut Opwaaiende zomerjurken (Billowing Summer Dresses, 1979). The sensuousness with which its protagonist, Edo Mesch, observes the world is shared by Abel, who can feel and smell the difference between Frisian and Zeeland soil.
Pier and ocean, a reference to a series of paintings by Mondrian, seems to stand for this struggle: breaking free of social and familial bonds and striving for independence. While Abel seems to reach the ocean, Dina clings eternally to the pier.