The Narrow Path
A classic story of loss, betrayal and forgiveness
Vonne van der Meer came to fame with a series of successful and award-winning novels set on the holiday island of Vlieland. Her great strength lies in describing the lives of ordinary people who hide their inner struggles beneath a tranquil surface. This is no less true of The Narrow Path of Love, the story of two couples, one of which lost a child years earlier.
The start of the story is horrifying. A man wind-surfing in a strong wind watches his baby son Björn being smashed against the pier. After the fatal incident the family decides to move to the Auvergne in France to make a fresh start. Françoise is originally from there and wants to go home; Floris is eager to leave his past behind and begin a new life with her and their two other children.
At a party in Amsterdam they meet May and Pieter, with whom they become friends immediately. The children get on well, and they visit the Auvergne every summer. May and Pieter know about Björn’s death but the subject is meticulously avoided, until one evening it makes its way, awkwardly, into the conversation. It is clear that the parents have never been able to overcome their grief.
The two couples have a bond that goes beyond friendship. Whenever they are together, something amorous hangs in the air. Yet it comes as a surprise when, after a canoe trip that almost ends in disaster, May and Floris begin an affair. They disguise their meetings, saying they are going shopping when in fact they are off to a deserted house Floris is rebuilding.
Back in the Netherlands, May and Pieter receive word their friends are going to divorce because Floris has been having an affair. To May’s astonishment, Françoise says her husband had been sleeping with the female owner of the deserted house. May too now feels betrayed.
It all leads to a surprising denouement, in which religion has a part to play. Through prayer – in the form of The Lord’s Prayer and the song ‘Tears in Heaven’ by Eric Clapton – May manages to reconcile herself to the fate that struck the two families. Grief, guilt and forgiveness find their way and even lead to a mystical experience in the church: ‘There was just a glow, in her and around her, a flame that drew the last remnants of pain and shame towards it like moths, and burned them up.’