Wat wij zagen
An urgent, brilliant novel which combines controversial issues with perfectly calibrated doses of emotion
Going purely by age, Hanna Bervoets can be considered a young writer. But going by her body of work, her awards and versatility, hers is already an established name on the Dutch literary scene – a leading voice in contemporary Dutch writing who explores timely issues such as privacy, genetic engineering and the medical industry in an accessible style. We Had to Remove This Post showcases her greatest strengths. The book was published in a print run of more than 600,000 copies as this year’s Book Week Gift, the featured novella which is given free to those buying a book during National Book Week.
In We Had to Remove This Post, 27-year-old Kayleigh, recounts her time as a content moderator for a large online platform. She is part of a team who review offensive videos and decide, following guidelines, what may or may not be left online. She isn’t the only one traumatised by the work: a group of former employees are suing the platform for severe psychological trauma. Kayleigh also looks back at a failed relationship. How exactly this relationship failed, what the lawsuit is about, and who is guilty of what – all is revealed bit by bit. Sometimes the pieces of the puzzle are fairly straightforward, at other times there is more ambivalence. Some information is disclosed on the first page, while other parts of the story don’t become clear until the very end.
Controversial questions about how people become numbed to violence in modern society, and about timeless human weaknesses, are combined with perfectly calibrated doses of emotion in a way that is reminiscent of Ian McEwan. But even though much remains ambivalent until the very end, one thing is clear throughout: Bervoets’ novel is brilliant, and as accessible as it is confrontational.