Everything There Was

In the reality TV show Big Brother, people were voluntarily locked up in a house and filmed. This may well have been the inspiration for the new novel by writer and columnist Hanna Bervoets, in which a group of eight people gather in a school building to record a TV programme about science. A brilliant young boy with a talent for maths is being interviewed for the show.

Original title
Alles wat er was
Hanna Bervoets

During the recordings, a huge explosion is heard outside. Afterwards all they can see from the windows is a thick mist; no one knows what’s happened. They turn on the television and are instructed to seal off all openings and cracks in the building. The people soon begin to adapt to the ‘new situation’, but no one knows what fate has in store for them.

The novel is made up of the nonchronological diary entries of Merel, one of the production crew. She keeps a diary about the events following the bang and because she is the only source of information, the reader doesn’t always know whether to trust her.

To make things more complicated, her entries are not in the right order – which might suggest that we are reading the loose pages of a manuscript found after the culmination of events. The coolness with which she keeps a record stands in stark contrast to the state the world is in. In addition, she casually mixes high and low culture. In the face of death, there’s little difference between Norbert Elias’s writings and the Burger King menu.

Tension mounts as the characters’ situation becomes more and more perilous. One by one, the characters begin to leave the stage. People become mistrustful. Merel already realizes quite early on that ‘it doesn’t matter what you do. It matters what people think you do.’ The essence of the novel is the fight for survival, right up to the chilling end.

In Bervoet’s work, in her novels and columns, her tone is always light and modern, she is clearly rooted in the present day. Her sentences are not sensitive or poetic, but functionally carefree. They ring with self-confidence.

de Volkskrant

If there’s light at the end of the tunnel, it’s probably just wishful thinking. Eat or be eaten, that’s the great question in this uncompromising work of art.

De Groene Amsterdammer
Hanna Bervoets
Hanna Bervoets (b. 1984) writes novels, essays, and screenplays. Bervoets won the 2009 Debut of the Year Award for her first novel, 'Of Hoe Waarom' (Or, How, Why).
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