A little masterpiece
Karel Glastra van Loon’s first novel is a sublime treatment of a fascinating theme. During a hospital test, main character Armin Minderhout discovers that he has been infertile since birth. This comes as a shock, since it implies that his thirteen-year-old son can’t be his. He can no longer raise the issue with the boy’s mother Monika as she has been dead for ten years. Monika was the love of his life, but now it appears she has deceived him at least once.
The disconcerting discovery and many disturbing questions Armin is forced to ask himself, prompt an investigation into the identity of the boy’s biological father. He draws up a list of ‘suspects’ and manages to track them down. The painful, confrontational search, the central strand of the novel, is intersected by passages set in the past telling the story of Armin and Monika’s love, her death, and the relation between the bereaved ‘father and son’.
The author proves himself a master of nuance, and Armin, Bo and Monika especially emerge as lively and multi-faceted characters. However great his desperation, Armin does not drown in a slough of despond, but questions–intelligently and honestly. The reader gets to know Armin mainly through his account of his search and his memories. The answer he has been looking for lands in his lap, as it were, at a moment when he has more or less given up hope. Bo’s father turns out to be someone not ‘in the frame,’ and the amazing twist the story takes towards the end of the book is shocking and heart-wrenching.
Besides chronicling a tense and emotional quest, De passievrucht is also a beautifully written ode to love. The narrator’s memories of his deceased wife as well as his feelings for his son and his girlfriend are romantic and tender, but his love is never blind and the romanticism is not hollow or sucrose. The posthumous discovery of Monika’s adultery scarcely changes the deep feelings he has for his first love. The same applies to his attitude to his son: Armin knows that Bo has someone else’s blood in his veins, but his paternal feelings grow even stronger. De passievrucht combines the best qualities of a thriller with the delicacy of a love story and always manages to strike the right tone.