The shocking story of a child that never wanted to be born, and never should have been
Death plays a key role in the work of Stefan Brijs. His first novel described the world of a solitary man whose two friends have died. In his second book, a fascinating collection of narrative essays, Brijs pays tribute to a series of dead authors. And in this new novel, it is only a question of time before the main character goes to meet his death.
‘Arend should never have been born’, reads the first sentence of the novel. Even the omens are not good: Arend’s mother, abused in her youth, leads a solitary life and decides to become pregnant by artificial insemination. The baby already starts to rebel in the womb. The pregnancy is hell on earth: in the mother’s belly sits a thinking, listening and bullying foetus. In the first chapter, Brijs manages to evoke in the reader an oppressiveness on a par with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Once in the world, Arend proves to be a gigantic, deformed child, a little monster and a screamer. From his first minute, the little fellow is determined to ruin his mother’s life. He is big, clumsy and unlovable.
The scenes at school, where the child is bullied, and at home, where he is hit by his mother, who also - as rapidly becomes clear - has a screw loose, are emotional and disturbing. The only one who offers Arend any solace is his fat neighbour, Hans, but even he turns out to be incapable of standing up to Arend’s mother. Arend prefers to sit and dream with his collection of insect wings. Finally, using elastic bands and feathers, Arend builds a pair of wings, on which he flies away. ‘He had never felt so light,’ we read, but presumably he simply plunges from the balcony to his death.
It is a grotesque fairytale, in which a strange, dreamy glow hangs over everything. Arend is a disturbing book. Its unusual way of story-telling and vivid depiction of the characters and events is fascinating.