I probably should have chosen a funnier book to start the year. Well, I was determined to find out more on Dutch writer Anna Enquist (not to confuse her this time with Ann Enright, although their books are back to back on the shelves), and the fate put me that one into my hand. It was sad and grey, set in the Netherlands of today with ordinary people, very different from her historical novel The Homecoming that I read this summer. Not completely at odds with it though: both have in common to be pervaded by fine psychology, devoid of any sentimentality and to present a rather pessimist view of misunderstanding within a married couple.
Seen from the outside, Louis and Nico are a couple you could envy: she a friendly high-school teacher with an interest in gardening, he a up-and-coming psychiatrist promoted to the direction of the psychiatric hospital. They live in a house in the dunes, close to the North Sea. But there is actually no couple to speak of. They both are isolated in their own world, struggling with an untold family secret that destroys them: their grown-up adopted daughter has left home for months, sealing the failure of their attempt to be a real family. Each has found a coping strategy that doesn’t really work and doesn’t bring them together: she fighting an endless fight against the sand that keeps invading her garden, he busying himself at work and taking rash decisions that all his colleagues and subordinates refuse.
Anna Enquist obviously knows what she is talking about: besides being a writer, she is also a psychoanalyst and a trained psychiatrist. She shows her characters in daily life, but observes the tiny facts that tell you how uncomfortable they are with the outside world. One small weakness though, in both books I read, you end up understanding the wife better than the husband. I think that the husband is shown on a slightly less positive way. Or maybe it’s just my own affinity. Because of the subject and the cool writing, it was difficult for me to be enthusiastic about this book, even though the story works and its quality is indisputable. I just closed the book with an icy feeling.