Client E. Busken

At eighty years old, Brouwers once again manages to surprise readers with an extraordinary book, funny and wry at the same time, about the decline of a man with dementia who spends his final days confined to a wheelchair in the Villa Madeleine nursing home.

Original title
Cliënt E. Busken
Jeroen Brouwers

Client E. Busken – because patients no longer exist in the Dutch healthcare sys­ tem – is furious. Furious with his mother, furious with the staff of Villa Madeleine, the nursing home to which he has been admitted against his will, furious with the other residents. His angry outburst at the paramedics who brought him to this final station in his life were the last words he spoke – ever since, he’s been silent.

Busken pretends to be deaf and dumb so that he can ignore the patronizing staff who are treating him like an infant and depriving him of all privacy. He who, by his own account, was a neurosurgeon, a paleogeneticist, a Latin scholar, a robot­ ics engineer. Or maybe just a mailroom employee – we never find out for sure. ‘I’m losing track of things,’ Busken admits. He is a rather unreliable omniscient narrator – whether because of his forgetfulness or because he’s deliberately wrongfooting the reader in an act of rebellion against the outside world, which has robbed him of his freedom. His rich use of language serves as a testament to his erudition, but ‘like pearls slipping off a string, one by one words are beginning to escape [him].’

In this novel, which describes one day in the life of the snarling protagonist, we are taken along on his endless, confused but often witty train of thought, sus­ pended between the present and the past, with fragmented memories of both true events and likely invented characters. There’s an encounter with a young new caregiver who fires up Busken’s imagina­ tion, one or two sanitary accidents, a few meddlesome fellow clients, a barbecue at the end of the day and the constant craving for a cigarette. Apart from that, nothing much happens – Busken is wait­ ing for death.

If this ends up being his final book, it will be a phenomenal finish to Brouwers’ career. He treats the reader to a story that brings to mind the greats of world litera­ ture: Joyce’s stream-­of-consciousness and single­day narrative, Proust’s polyphony of inner voices (with the name of the nursing home, Villa Madeleine, being an explicit reference), Svevo’s cigarette motif, the misanthropy of Canetti’s Kien.

Brouwers lets us ride the waves of his thoughts, and in so doing manages – and this merits special praise – to effortlessly captivate us. The language is as rich and dense as poetry, and every bit as fluid.

NRC Handelsblad

A monument of language.

Jeroen Brouwers
Jeroen Brouwers (1940-2022) grew up in Indonesia, worked as an editor at Manteau publishers in Brussels for twelve years and subsequently settled in the Netherlands.
Part ofFiction
Share page