Gerwin van der Werf

Een onbarmhartig pad

A gripping road novel that lays bare the anguish of a marriage on the rocks

Tiddo, the narrator of this tense and tautly constructed novel, decides to save his marriage by hiring a camper and touring Iceland with his wife and son. Setting out with the best of intentions, he not only puts his own life in danger but also the lives of his family. A chilling examination of how the will to do good can tear us apart.

A classic anti-hero who expects little from life, Tiddo still feels the need to seize one last opportunity to do the right thing. He and his wife Isa no longer make love. Following her last miscarriage, around eight years ago, the tenderness has seeped out of their marriage. With his son Jonathan, too, Tiddo has no real contact. Is it simply a quirk of adolescence or is there something more sinister behind the gruesome images Jonathan draws, day in day out?

Even before the journey begins, things start to unravel. Tiddo’s mother asks him to come and see her before they leave: he arrives to find money and a letter on the kitchen table, but no trace of his mother. Tiddo keeps this discovery from Isa and a sense of foreboding sets in: this will not be the last blunder he makes.

Once the family is on the road, a row erupts about whether or not to pick up hitchhikers. Tiddo has visions of horror stories but eventually concedes. When a short while later they do stop to pick up a lone girl, Tiddo’s worst nightmares seem about to be realised when a red-haired giant of a man climbs aboard the camper right behind her. Svein is a big, handsome American with Icelandic roots and with runes tattooed on his body.

For Tiddo, Svein’s presence spells danger, but also brings flashes of salvation. Is there wisdom to be found in the stories told by their uninvited fellow traveller? A strange power in the symbols inked on his skin? Perhaps, but Tiddo is not about to sit back and do nothing while this primitive soul wins the trust of both his wife and his son.

The novel hurtles to a startling climax. Along the way, Van der Werf conjures up the breath-taking beauty of the Icelandic landscape, shares telling observations on tourism gone mad and above all evokes the everyday loneliness of a spent marriage — hands that forget to touch, eyes that no longer light up but look away resentfully.

Compelling and thoroughly satisfying novel written in a gratifyingly assured style.


The themes explored in A Merciless Road — a father on the edge, the classic anti-hero — spark favourable associations with Grunberg’s Tirza, Herman Koch at his best and even flashes of US TV smash Breaking Bad.

Het Parool


Gerwin van der Werf

Gerwin van der Werf (b. 1969) is a musicologist, teacher and regular columnist for the Dutch newspaper Trouw. His novel Wild (2011) was longlisted for the Libris Literature Prize. Een onbarmhartig pad (A Merciless Road) is his fourth novel.

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Een onbarmhartig pad (2018). Fictie, 232 pagina's.
Aantal woorden: 56.000


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