Well, this will probably be a rather awkward post for all English speakers reading this, because if I don’t want to be repeating yet another post, I’m going to have to cover a Dutch author here. Who – to the best of my knowledge – has not been translated.
Can you recommend an author who is not well known?
Well yes, as a matter of fact I can. This is actually probably my favourite Dutch author who doesn’t write children’s books, and his name was Olaf J de Landell. This is the pseudonym of Jan Bernard Wemmerslager van Sparwoude, which says to me that he was of minor nobility, or he wouldn’t have that double-barrel surname going on.
My love for this particular author comes from my mother, who owns a good number of his novels and who recommended them to me when I was looking for stuff to read. The first one I read was probably Ave Eva, which is more or less a romance novel. Eva is a mousey office worker, fired by her boss for one uncharacteristic burst of insubordination. She seeks solace with her best (and only) friend Sally, a worldly reporter for a women’s magazine. Sally sees her as a saviour, for her brother Derk is in dire need of a fiancee to prevent him from getting married. This statement is as confusing to Eva as it is to you and me, but eventually it all makes sense. It’s light, fluffy, often very funny and has a feel-good happy ending that’s right up my street.
Another favourite is the one pictured here, which translates more or less as ‘The cloister of the light green monks’. It tells the story of six men who find themselves at a party late at night. They’re all pretty drunk, and they all have housing woes. Unreasonable landladies, opera-singing neighbours, imminent eviction, it runs the gamut. Luckily for them there is a seventh person there, who just happens to have a big house standing empty, and he’d be glad to rent it to the six of them for a pittance. Not only do they accept, they also – in their drunken stupor – pay a late night visit to a clothes store where they all buy a complete set of clothes in a bewildering shade of pea-green that seemed like the best choice ever at the time.
When they wake up the next morning in the house and try to piece together where the hell they are and how they got there, the clothes are delivered and they are even more baffled by their own actions. Still, on reflection the whole house thing doesn’t actually seem like such a bad idea, so they stick with it, including the clothes.
Before long the entire population of the small village nearby knows of the pea-green weirdos living in the haunted house (someone was murdered there, if I remember right), and speculation runs rife. One bold soul asks the men if they are monks, given their weirdly matched attire, hence the title.
There really isn’t much more to the book than that – just a story of six very different men who try to keep the peace and get on with their lives. There’s a rich guy, an ex-thief, a black guy, a gay guy, and slowly but surely the fragile peace starts to crumble when it becomes clear that one of the six is a total bigot who really doesn’t fit in with the other five. Again, and despite how it sounds from that description, it is often very funny, a light read and a great book to return to as an old favourite.
My absolute favourite book is probably Met Hermelijn-Stappen (With Ermine Steps), which tells the story of a tiny (fictitious) kingdom somewhere in eastern Europe, whose king has lost all three of his sons in the past year. The king himself is well into his seventies, fat, indulgent and more inclined to look after his own pleasure than his subjects. His sons were of the same mold, but since none are left he is forced to retrieve his only remaining heir – a young man from an almost forgotten secondary and impoverished line, who pretty much scrapes together a living in the mountains herding goats. The young man is everything the king is not – healthy, fit, modest and almost painfully shy.
Disdaining him as a suitable heir, the king announces he’ll get to work producing a better one, having just proposed to a lovely seventeen-year-old girl, but fate intervenes by making him fall down the stairs and die while he is trying to prove to his court how manly and steady he still is.
This leaves the poor young man to become king, and the bulk of the book is his struggle not only to be accepted, but to be a good king. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story, and again has moments when it is laugh-out-loud funny.
De Landell’s books are firm favourites, that I often return to for a re-read. I’d love to recommend them, but unfortunately you’d have to learn Dutch in order to read them, sorry.
Original post can be found here.