Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Evenings by Gerard Reve (translated by Sam Garrett)

Book Review

The Evenings by Gerard Reve (translated by Sam Garrett)

In The Netherlands The Evenings, published in 1947, is considered a classic and is taught in schools, but many English readers have never heard of it or author Gerard Reve, who was the first openly gay writer in The Netherlands.
Finally, almost 70 years after its original publication, The Evenings has been translated into English and was published by Pushkin Press on November 3rd 2016.


"'I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it.'

Twenty-three-year-old Frits - office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes - finds life absurd and inexplicable. He lives with his parents, who drive him mad. He has terrible, disturbing dreams of death and destruction. Sometimes he talks to a toy rabbit.

This is the story of ten evenings in Frits' life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the street and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

Darkly funny and mesmerising, The Evenings takes the tiny, quotidian triumphs and heartbreaks of our everyday lives and turns them into a work of brilliant wit and profound beauty."

I mentioned in my October Favourite Reads post that I'd struggled with quite a few books last month. The Evenings was originally one to go on my list of disappointing books. For most of the first half I was wondering what on earth was going on, I didn't connect with Frits, I struggled to understand who was speaking, I found it dull and I couldn't see much of the humour that this novel was said to be dripping with.
However, about half way through the book clicked with me. I felt Frits' frustration for the minuteness of his life; his dull office job, his bickering parents and the desperate need to fill his evenings, and the sense of loss when he achieved nothing.

"'Looking at this dispassionately,' Frits mused once he was outside, 'one could say: we still have half the evening left. Yet that would be an unfounded representation of affairs. The evening has been wasted, nothing can alter that.'"

The evenings is both funny and very sad at the same time; sad in a way that I think everyone who's ever wondered 'what's the point' can relate to.

Frits' dark humour saves The Evenings from becoming an ode to depression though, his obsession with baldness, his social awkwardness and his accurate but unflattering descriptions of his friends and family thread humour through the narrative.

I also loved the evening where they all went to a dance and got spectacularly drunk. Whether its the 1940s or 2016 there's always a drunk friend who thinks he's being wise and another who's trying not to vomit.

"'Do you know what it is?' said Frits, who found himself unable to stand in one spot, "when I've had a drink I start fluttering, but I never leave the ground. On the ground I remain.'
'I'm not well,' Jaap said, 'I need to sit down.'"

However, despite coming around to The Evenings, I can't help but think that Reve could have got his point across in a short story, it feels very stretched in some places.

There is also very little plot; I spent most of the first half waiting for something to happen. However, if you accept that not much is going to happen and that The Evenings is more of a wandering (and wondering) narrative, it becomes easier and more enjoyable to read.

I can see why The Evenings is a classic, I can imagine that at the time of publishing, just after the Second World War, it was something of a sensation. I felt many connections to Frits, but I think I would have felt just such a connection in a short story. I won't be rushing to read this again but I'm glad I have read it.

My Rating: 3 stars

My thanks to NetGalley and Pushkin Press for providing me with a copy on a read to review basis.

Follow Me On Bloglovin' 

No comments:

Post a Comment