Eerie, and unputdownable.
It’s really hard to write much about Gerhard Bakker’s latest novel The Detour, without giving anything away. It reminded me in a way of another translated work that explored a young woman’s state of mind, but I’m not even going to name that one in case that becomes a spoiler. (So you have been warned, click that link at your peril!)
This is part of the blurb from the Scribe website:
A woman abandons her home in Holland without a word, leaving behind an impervious husband, mystified parents, and an unfinished thesis on reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. Across the sea in Britain, she arrives at an isolated cottage in the shadow of a mountain. She settles there, alone in the ancient landscape, her only contact coming from animals she encounters, a handful of wary locals, and her poetry books. But what is she fleeing? And will her new home provide redemption, or lead her further into darkness?
On a foggy afternoon, her solitude is shattered when an elusive young man jumps over her fence. Perhaps his vitality can deter the shadows, but in this uncanny place the line between kindness and betrayal is never clear.
Meanwhile, the woman’s husband is coming, and time is running out….
It seems all wrong to describe anything by Bakker as a psychological drama, because his prose (so beautifully translated by Australian David Colmer) is so quiet, so restrained. The reader is lured into an intensely private world in a desolate landscape but not told any reasons for the woman’s mystifying departure from her home. There are intriguing scenes with her husband, and even more intriguing ones that depict a parental reaction that seems incomprehensible. Some of the woman’s actions seem at odds with what the reader eventually suspects is her intention. The young man who turns up seems to exercise a control over her that is a complete contrast to the way she allows contact from the small cast of other characters.
I’m sorry if this review seems unnecessarily enigmatic, but I do think this title would be a great choice for book groups who would enjoy teasing out the plot and discussing the issues it raises. The climax is breathtaking. It’s a great novel, a worthy successor to Bakker’s award-winning The Twin. (See my review.)
A word about the cover image on the Australian edition, published by Scribe (see above): it’s much better than the UK cover image (see below). Yes, there are geese in the story and yes, they are symbolic, but that doesn’t mean the cover deserves an inane flock of ‘em! While I didn’t find the Aussie cover particularly enticing before I started reading, once I had started, I found it utterly compelling. This girl on the front cover became the young woman in the story, and as my sense of unease grew, I kept coming back to the cover, and trying to ‘read’ the expression on her face. This cover really conveys the sense of psychological isolation, her frailty and the landscape. But is that expression indecision or calm resolution? I still can’t decide. The name of the designer at Scribe isn’t credited, and the photo is from a stock image site called Mirjan Rooze but I say ‘well done’ to whoever it was that chose this image!
Author: Gerhard Bakker
Title: The Detour
Translated by David Colmer
Publisher: Scribe 2012
Source: review copy courtesy of Scribe
Or direct from Scribe where it is also available as an eBook.