The relationship between a man and a woman changes dramatically when their deepest desire to have a child is not fulfilled. This is the drama in Robbert Welagen’s eighth novel. In the languid, summery, nostalgic atmosphere that has become the trademark of his work, a moving love story unfolds.

Original title
Robbert Welagen

The 42-year-old Robbert is ‘halfway through his life in a dark cellar’ and finds himself waiting for his wife Antoinette in a thermal bath in Budapest. Will she show up? Robbert calmly explains in great detail how they met, how they ended up living together, how they decorated their house and how they planned to start a family. He tells how he and Antoinette dreamt of having a simple, perfect life with children - ’a girl with a tiara in her hair, a boy reading a comic book’ - and how one day the love of his life left him.

For reasons that remain unclear, Antoinette is unable to get pregnant. The couple undergoes fertility tests, hormone treatments and hospital visits. The labs, the waiting rooms, the jars, the sex by appointment - it is extraordinarily refreshing to read a man’s perspective on everything a couple has to go through before their childless fate must ultimately be accepted.

Slowly Robbert feels his wife drifting away. The two lovers start blaming each other for everything. If he puts his love for her over his desire to have children, for example, does that mean he doesn’t care about her happiness? Antoinette wants them to suffer together and resist fate; Robbert doesn’t want his life and marriage to be hijacked. About every man he sees, Robbert wonders: ‘Can you tell by looking at a man whether he’s a father? By a look, a gesture or something else?’ The melancholy for that which he did not become - a father - is just as strong as the melancholy for lost love.

Involuntary childlessness has rarely been expressed as beautifully and empathically as by Robbert, waiting for Antoinette in the steaming baths of Budapest.

It is precisely because he manages to make the friction between the lovers visible, even in the smallest interactions, because he portrays grief unfiltered, that this novel can rightly be called heartbreaking.

De Groene Amsterdammer

Thanks to Welagen’s refined, light-romantic style, this ‘little’ drama resonates with a greater, more universal desire—for another time, another place, another life.

de Volkskrant
Robbert Welagen
Robbert Welagen (b. 1981) is a Dutch author of nine novels as well as a number of short stories. He lives in the woods outside Zeist.
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