The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Translated by Michele Hutchison

Harsh, bitter, cruel, brutal. These are the words that could describe this novel the best. But, unfortunately for the world we live in, this novel feels true and genuine. How is this much hardship,  so many problems and difficulties even possible in a life of a child. In a life of a family.

“Even though I sometimes try to look at myself from a distance, it doesn’t work, I’m stuck inside.”

We are following the story of our narrator Jas, a ten-year-old girl, brought up in a farming god fearing family of five in the 90s.

The whole novel is a whirlwind of many misconceptions of a child brought together by the tragedy of her brother’s death, influenced by religious indoctrination, strictness of her parents, grief, secrets kept from the child, insufficient knowledge and understanding of the world. I suppose all of it is the trigger or the cause of the child’s mental problems, depression, acting out and severe difficulties with herself as an individual, her self-image and her place in the world.

The very small world she lives in is her village, she knows and is not allowed to know anything beyond it. The city, television, bad words are forbidden. It seems like a place and a state of mind from a far away point in history. This could easily be in the middle ages, the baroque or the 19th century. The untruthfulness, the lies, the insincerity, the unfamiliarity, the harshness might be a part of a completely different era than our contemporary one. 

“Dad says children can’t have worries because they only come when you have to plough and grub your own fields, even though I keep discovering more and more worries of my own and they keep me awake at night. They seem to be growing.”

The combination of the seriousness, severity, solemnity and the way of thinking of a child is stunning. Leaves you speechless. The innocence of a child’s way of thinking, connections between things that have no similarity or consequence, the search of magic and the uncanny everywhere and the harsh reality. What a child has to conclude on its own when it doesn’t get any help from the outside. No explanations, nothing comforting to hold on. Just crude facts and silence. The only thing audible is God’s word – cruel, unrelenting and strict. No help, no complaisance, no clemency. Just harshness, hardness, hardship.

“The teacher told us during the history lesson that Hitler had fallen through ice when he was four and had been saved by a priest, that some people can fall through ice and it’s better if they’re not rescued. I wondered then why a bad person like Hitler could be saved and not my brother. Why the cows had to die while they hadn’t done anything wrong.”

A terrible failure in parenting, but a terrible failure in their own lives as well. Inability to help each other, others or themselves. Just terrible lives in unbelievably harsh circumstances. Everything is unbelievable, hard, sick.

There are so many problems here: grief, sadness, guilt, child sexuality, violence, closeness to death, expectance of death, not fitting in, peer abuse, sexual abuse, problems with digestion as a result of it all.

Difficult, troublesome, haunting, extremely well written, unlike anything else I have ever read. So powerful, characters are lifelike and unlike any others, the narrator with the most original point of view. Not an easy read, but a meaningful, serious and important one. Highly recommended!

I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for honest review. Thank you Faber and Faber and Netgalley.

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