Acclaimed novelist returns with a story of a self-contained man, a plane crash and misplaced lust
A barber’s quiet life is disturbed by his mother’s volunteer work and by a writer who prods him to consider his past. Why was his father on the plane that crashed before he was born? How can he cope with the feelings the athletic, intellectually disabled Igor arouses in him?
Bakker gained a significant international reputation through his sensitive, restrained characterisation and evocative descriptions of largely rural settings. With his long-awaited fourth novel, set mainly in Amsterdam, he has branched off in a new direction by introducing metafictional and documentary elements.
The book’s main character is Simon, a third-generation hairdresser, who has inherited his grandfather’s salon and turned it into a barber shop. Simon never knew his father, who was a passenger on one of the two planes that crashed into each other in Tenerife in 1977, and has a strained relationship with his mother, who disapproves of his passivity. When she asks him to help her with her weekly swimming sessions for intellectually disabled teenagers, he comes into contact with a youth who resembles his adolescent pin-up, the swimmer Aleksandr Popov.
Parallel to this, one of Simon’s customers, a writer who resembles Gerbrand Bakker, enlists Simon’s help for the novel he is writing about a barber. When Simon and the writer end up researching the plane crash in tandem, reality and fiction become entangled. What has the status of reality within the fiction and what is the fictional writer’s fantasy?
The second part of the book takes us back to 1977 and Simon’s father’s flight to Spain, but also how he escapes the crash and begins a new life on Tenerife. This may sound complicated, but Bakker tells the story with such economical calm and complete naturalness that the tension never wanes and the reader finishes with a strong sense of these ordinary, flawed people.