Servant, Alone

After achieving international fame as a novelist with 'The Twin' (International Dublin Literary Award 2010) and 'The Detour', Gerbrand Bakker made his autobiographical debut with Jasper and 'His Servant' in 2016. Now, the author returns with a mesmerising sequel, building on his fictional oeuvre to present an intimate life become novel. Recording and recollecting everything with a precise pen and wry humour, he searches for answers: Where does his depression spring from? And how can he overcome it?

Gerbrand Bakker

n Jasper and His Servant, author Gerbrand Bakker described his move from Amsterdam to the mountainous German Eifel, the process of restoring a house, taming the garden, getting to know his neighbours, and adopting Jasper, a stray dog whose servant he promptly became. But now the servant is alone. Jasper may have been more of a nuisance than anything else, however, the void left by his death renders the author’s life meaningless and, before long, his loneliness unfolds into a deep depression.

Bakker experiences and contemplates as a writer, jotting down the everyday with searing honesty, ruthlessly portraying himself and those around him. Trading between Eifel and Amsterdam, he describes a chemical darkness that began with an anxiety-ridden road trip to Greece, interweaves conversations and memories of relationships and romances with different men, and runs up against misunderstanding from his family and friends. He gardens, goes back and forth with his sexologists, reflecting on love and desire (and his lack of it). As in Jasper, the battle with self-hate and the need for the structure and labour of writing are ever-present. Across 87 short chapters, the contours of Bakker’s depression emerge through the many small details that envelop it:

A better characterisation of a depression is the word nothing. No man’s land. There is nothing, you are nothing. You are not in touch with yourself, not with your thoughts, not with your feelings, not with your body, not with others.

With a style reminiscent of Knausgaard’s autofiction, Servant, Alone presents an absorbing portrait of a writer’s struggle with an invisible, ineffable condition. His prose is exact, rarely if ever figurative, powerfully evoking loneliness and longing, while at other times tender or wickedly humorous. Or as the jury of the International Dublin Literary Award aptly noted: ‘His writing is wonderful: restrained and clear […]. There are intriguing ambiguities, but no false notes.’

This isn’t therapeutic writing. Bakker experiences, thinks and records because he is a writer, not because he wants to resolve something […] He describes as best as he can only that which is most meaningful in his life… Honest, investigative, critical and intimate.

de Volkskrant

If this is the form in which Bakker’s writing fits best (and I think it is), part of you hopes, harsh though it may be, that his self-exploration is not finished yet.

NRC Handelsblad
Gerbrand Bakker
Gerbrand Bakker (b. 1962) is a novelist, diarist and columnist who broke through in 2006 with 'Boven is het stil' (The Twin), which won three prizes in his native Netherlands and another five abroad, most notably the Dublin Literary Award.
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