Reve revisited

The Evenings

22 December 2016

“It was still dark, in the early morning hours of the twenty-second of December 1946, on the second floor of the house at Schilderskade 66 in our town, when the hero of this story, Frits van Egters, awoke.” Almost seventy years after this fact of fiction, the Dutch postwar classic De avonden has awoken in the minds of English readers, and how! Thanks to the the superb translation by Sam Garrett and raving reviews Pushkin Press managed to sell 14,000 copies of The Evenings. A Winter’s Tale - so far. The U.S. edition will follow soon, in 2017.

On Boxing Day 1946 the then 23 years old and fully unknown Gerard Kornelis van het Reve sat down to type himself a letter of intent, urging himself basically to “sit down and write”. The main characteristics of his debut - such as the formal tone, the title, intended publisher, the number of pages, and the number of chapters and days comprised in the novel - may already be found in this letter, which was recently published on the website of the Dutch Museum for Literature in The Hague.


The publication of the English edition of Reve’s classic made Tim Parks wonder in The Guardian “it is so rare, as a reviewer, to come across a novel that is not only a masterpiece but a cornerstone manque of modern European literature, that I hesitate before setting down a response: what can I say, in a world of hype, that will put this book where it belongs, in readers’ hands and minds?”

And critic Eileen Battersby concluded in The Irish Times: “Reve’s debut, which was published in 1947, […] should also be acknowledged as one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written. Frits is an Everyman, or more accurately, every person, caught up in an ongoing personal drama of wondering what exactly his life is about. […] The distinguished American translator Sam Garrett, who has lived in Amsterdam for more than 30 years, has conveyed each sigh and sly aside with majestic tonal panache and the outcome should cause many readers to revise their opinions of The Catcher in the Rye (1951). In all fairness to Salinger, The Evenings is so much better and while it is immensely more sophisticated, it also expresses that bewildering sense of being very young, if already decidedly weary of grown ups who appear so stupidly unaware of life’s true menace. If Holden Caulfield is a bit of a pain, Frits van Egters, with his vile if hilarious jokes, astute observations and offbeat humour, is slightly terrifying but more real and far better company.” Battersby recently included the novel in her list of 2016 favourites.

More reviews may be found on BBC Radio and The Observer.

More on Reve in the Authors section of this website.

For the English edition of The evenings Pushkin Press received a translation subsidy from the Dutch Foundation for Literature. Previously, translations of De avonden have been published in Germany, France, Hungary, Norway, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.

The translations database also offers an overview of translations by Sam Garrett.