This may be the grossest book I’ve ever read and that’s seriously too bad because it’s also brilliant. On the one hand it’s so gross there were places which simply creeped me out. On the other hand I finished, totally entranced.
The Discomfort of Evening
by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Translated by Michele Hutchison
2018 / 296 pages
Read by Genevieve Gaubt
Rating: 8.25 / 21st century lit
But there are things which are just not discussed in polite society so why does Rijneveld insist? Is it to shock us? (Sometimes shock is used to shove us into the reality but other times it’s simply to make money.). Did she have to use constipation to symbolize grief with abusive treatments for the remedy? Oh well – nothing new here because it seems to me shock is what most of the Booker Prizes have been awarded for the last few years. (“We’ll just shock those judges into really paying attention to our book!” sayeth the publishers who nominate and the judges go, “Oh look! This will get people talking!”)
Certainly Rijneveld’s Dutch Reformed religion doesn’t encourage this grossness – even gay and lesbian clergy is okay with them. Dutch Reformed is generally pretty mainstream but I suppose it has extremists. The shock value might be part of her own “trans” thing as she doesn’t use gender-specific pronouns like “he,” “she,” etc. they’re all “they” and “them” in her life but she does in the book.
I think yes, some kids are like Jas, the 1st person narrator, and just fascinated by bodily fluids and functions etc, but this child is kind of bizarre about it and should have outgrown it, imo. But I have to concede that yes, it is about guilt because when her pet rabbit died Jas had wished her brother Matthies would die instead – and then Matthies died in a fall. Guilt.
The religious family tries to come to terms with why their young son and brother was taken each dealing with the loss in their own ways. It’s not a soft and heartfelt book of “healing.”
There is a lot of child and animal abuse and it takes place in 20th century Europe. It’s graphic and it’s gross – that’s the main thing, “My poop belonged to me.” I suppose living on a cow farm one’s attention is drawn by the bums of cows. It reminds me of Ottessa Moshfegh in a younger character – I liked Moshfegh’s books better.
Adolf Hitler is mentioned more than one time (why?) and the basement has something hidden in it – hot dogs for the Jews Mom has hidden there? Don’t get me entirely wrong, there are some (a few) parts which are almost magical – love and toads and cows. And the writing is awesome, lush, gorgeous.
More likely it’s best to say that it’s about children dealing with adult situations and issues like sex and death and guilt and so on when even their parents are not doing very well in that regard. I don’t think the religious issues have much to do with it. The book is probably very good in regards to the way guilt-ridden kids might see these things.
It should be said that this particular 1st-person narrator child (and her parents) are kind of “off balance” so I think maybe balance (sanity?) may be a tiny theme – at one point mom has coffee in one hand and tea in the other “as if to balance.” Falling (the max of un-balanced) happens and is greatly feared. There are other incidents of maintaining balance. Also, hiding and secrets are important to the kids because mom and dad have their ways about discipline and the elder brother is a bully.
Children acting as 1st person narrators are very difficult because they are, by nature, unreliable in that you can’t quite trust what a kid tells you – maybe the term “untrustworthy” narrator would be better if you have problems with the word “unreliable” in this context.