Outer Life

Esse and Rivka, a lesbian couple in their mid-thirties, move to a tiny village in the countryside. They embark on their rural idyll with high expectations, but nothing turns out the way they expect. 'Outer Life' is a novel about shattered dreams, personality clashes and finding your place in the world, as moving as it is witty.

Nina Polak
Original title

During the COVID-19 crisis, many of us toyed with the idea of moving to the countryside – more peace and quiet at a lower cost. Esse and Rivka decide to take the plunge, but the reality proves very different from what they’d expected. Esse, a retired professional athlete with a tendency to depression, finds herself thriving in this wide open landscape. She starts teaching basketball to children, elevates gardening into her new calling and befriends Eva Alta, a psychiatrist she knows from television who lives on a farm along with several of her patients. Eva Alta convinces Esse to come off her antidepressants.

However, Rivka, a young writer, finds the quiet and the sweeping expanse of land unnerving. The garden shed where she’s trying to work on her next book turns out to be right next to a busy footpath and the plane tree in their garden ‘with its bark that feels like a hairless cat’ is unpleasant against her skin. Before long she finds herself grappling with writer’s block, which she tries to combat with daily Amazon deliveries of books by other rural writers who she hopes can give her the answers she’s looking for. She’s not at all happy about Esse’s burgeoning friendship with Eva Alta.

Nina Polak, who has already made her name as a critically acclaimed novelist, recounts the lives of the struggling women with an unflinching gaze that is both sardonic and compassionate. She alternates between Rivka and Esse, allowing readers to get to know each of them even better than the two women know each other. As time goes by, they find themselves at odds more and more often. They’re both trying to find their way in a new life, but while doing so they neglect the other’s and their own inner world.

That tension rises to the surface in taut dialogue. Rivka’s jealousy toward Eva is apparent in her every word. The arguments between Rivka and Esse are increasingly explosive, until the inevitable rift occurs. Polak adds a gripping subplot featuring crime and homophobia. The result is a superb psychological novel about finding your place in the world and the impact of the landscape that surrounds you.

‘Between the sardonic cynicism, the naive romanticising and the riveting crime subplot, this novel more than delivers on the expectations it sets.’

NRC Handelsblad

‘Polak is on peak form when, toward the end of the novel, she gives us the verbatim verbal warfare of increasingly heated arguments.’

De Groene Amsterdammer
Nina Polak
Nina Polak (b. 1986) studied Literature and Cultural Analysis in Amsterdam and New York. She made her debut in 2014 with 'We zullen niet te pletter slaan' (We Won’t Be Smashed to Pieces), which was nominated for the Anton de Wachter Prize, the ANV Debut Prize and the Opzij Literature Prize.
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