The Discomfort Of Evening

by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Here is a rare novel I dare you to read in isolation. It is a work of such striking originality and poetic beauty that at times, I had to put it down and take a breath before diving back in.

Set in the present day, twelve-year-old Jan lives on a dairy farm in rural Netherlands with her deeply religious family. When a tragic accident befalls them at Christmas, the family are brought to their knees and begin to splinter. Believing she is somehow responsible, Jan retreats into a fantasy world. For months following the accident she refuses to remove her red coat, she can’t poo and sleeps with two toads beside her bed, desperately waiting for them to start mating, as this would be the vital sign she needs that her family have begun to reunite. She believes there are Jews hidden in the basement and that her rabbit possesses special power, everywhere she looks she perceives symbols related to their current state of despair. As enemies within her small world threaten to overwhelm her, she craves comfort and failing that, escape.

‘The trees stand in a row with their heads bent towards my bedroom, like a group of church elders listening in on us,’ is just one of the many exquisite images the author has woven throughout the story.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a revered young poet and The Discomfort of Evening is shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I, for one,  would love to see this book awarded the highest accolade. Just make sure you have a teddy to squeeze while you read it.

Reviewed for Zimmermann by Sophie Lee.