De mooiste dagen zijn het ergst
On evaporating illusions and ambitious ideas
Student Lena Fernhout is the central figure in this tragicomic debut novel by Anke Scheeren. Aged twenty-four, she tells a spirited tale about the failures in her life, large and small. A good deal of Lena’s misfortune is caused by her difficult relationships with the anything but ordinary members of her family.
Her father long ago returned to a family he started earlier, her mother has moved to France in the hope of finding God, and her brother is a sombre, self-absorbed young man. Lena’s personal defeat takes the form of an art project that was to have involved distributing rubber ducks around the globe in imitation of the world-famous oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. Unfortunately the evaluators of the project had never heard of Ebbesmeyer. For Lena the fun has worn off; she sees her ambitious ideas cut down to size and her illusions evaporate.
Growing up means taking the knocks, Lena discovers; it means trying and failing, then starting over. This is hardly an unfamiliar theme, but precisely for that reason it’s striking how well Scheeren develops it here. Her characters are created with apparent ease, her scenes are natural and self-explanatory, her insight mature: ‘Growth is an attempt to get away from your roots.’
Despite setbacks, Lena avoids cynicism, not for a moment becoming callous. She contemplates her continual failings and those of her social surroundings with mild irony. When her mother ends up in a cheerless apartment somewhere in France, Scheeren describes how small the place is: ‘I fold out the sofa into a bed every evening,’ mother says. ‘Saves a lot of space.’ I nod, thinking: midgets save a lot of space too.
Scheeren never puts a foot wrong, combining the uncomfortable with the witty, the hopeless with the cheerful. She is sharp yet always compassionate. The contrast renders up a delightful tone, young and vivid, in which anything at all can be said.