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The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale – Gerard Reve

April 26, 2017

Gerard Reve (1923-2006) is considered one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors, and was also the first openly gay writer in the country’s history. His 1947 debut The Evenings was chosen as one of the nation’s 10 favourite books by readers of a leading Dutch newspaper while the Society of Dutch Literature ranked it as the Netherlands’ best novel of all time. It’s been dubbed ‘one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written’

Twenty-three-year-old Frits – office worker, daydreamer, teller of inappropriate jokes – finds life absurd and inexplicable. There is a lack of much to do after the War. Meeting friends, going to the cinema and dancing are the only options, if you have enough money. Otherwise there is sitting at home and listening to the radio. 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’s life at the end of December, as he drinks, smokes, sees friends, aimlessly wanders the gloomy city streets and tries to make sense of the minutes, hours and days that stretch before him.

Some of our group found it quite boring –  but that’s the point! How do you write a book about boredom that isn’t boring? It was a page-turner because people wanted to see if the protagonist did something daring, like kill someone. Was his adolescence (he’s annoyed with and rude to his parents) delayed by war and occupation? Is the obsession with food a result of previous starvation and rationing?

It’s well-written. The descriptions of the weather are vivid. One person found it quite hypnotic.

Is his teasing s form of flirtation?

That the gay author is the same age as the protagonist and this being his first book, is there a suppressed gay element? For example, the bar upstairs where you have to ring a bell to get in – one assumes it is a casino but there’s dancing but only two women. Is it a clandestine gay bar?

He is obsessed with baldness.

Although not a churchgoer, he knows and quotes his bible.

The cover and feel of the book are pleasing.

All in all, people were pleased that they’d read it though one gave up half way through.

Maybe he should join a book group!

Quotations:

“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 all”

This afternoon is perhaps worse than others,” he thought. “I have four hours to go till evening.”

“It is,” he thought, “only a quarter to three, but still this day will fill itself like any other.”

“If no one else says anything,” he thought, “I have no choice but to keep talking.”

“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 all”

“‘All is lost,’” he thought, ‘everything is ruined. It’s ten past three.’”

“will be a day well spent.   This will be no wasted and profitless Sunday.”

Oh but you are becoming quite bald,” he tells one man. Listen Joop, without meaning to be nasty your scalp is really almost bare. It will not be long before you can count your hairs on the fingers of one hand… Do you count the hairs in your comb each morning? If you did you would see that there are more of them each day. Slowly but surely. I would be horrified to know that I was going bald. I would lose all desire to live. But please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to discourage you.

A loss,” he mumbled softly, “a dead loss.  How can it be?  A day squandered in its entirety.  Hallelujah.

A pity that I have to leave.”  “But where are you going?” his mother asked.  “Well,” he said, “we shall see.”  “So you don’t know where you’re going yet?” she asked, “but you say that you have to leave.”  “The one does not necessarily rule out the other,” Frits said.  “One may need to leave without having to go anywhere.  Those are the cases in which one must go away from somewhere.”  “Stay and have a nice cup of tea,” she said.

“What is the weather like?”  his mother asked.  “Normal,” Frits said, “not so very cold.  “When it’s cold like this,” she said, “I don’t much feel like leaving the house; father and I were planning to go out this evening to Annetje in Haarlem.”  “That’s true,” Frits said, “you told me this morning.”  “What’s it like outside now?” she asked, “is the wind very cold?”  “It’s blowing, but it’s not a cold wind,” Frits said.  “But what do you call cold?” she asked, “is it that humid cold?”  The air is moist,” Frits said, “but the wind is actually quite sultry.”
“Let’s go anyway,” his father said.

“‘The empty hours,’ he murmured, turning away”

“‘I just sit here and don’t do anything,’ he thought”.

Gritting his teeth he watched as the man speared three potatoes from the platter with his own fork. “That is unclean,” he thought, “a violation of every precept. But we stand powerless.”

I’m only waiting for them to hang themselves or beat each other to death. Or set the house on fire. For God’s sake, let it be that. So why hasn’t it happened yet ? But let us not despair. All things come to those who wait.

“The devil take me,” said Frits, “it is a delight to me each and every time. Those reports like: child killed by exploding grenade. Glorious. Deferred suffering from the war. That is always a joy. They always start of so cosily, those reports,” “the seven-year-old son,” he said in an impassive voice, “of the Karels family, agriculturalists in Breda, attempted on Wednesday afternoon to dismantle a small anti-aircraft shell with a claw hammer.”

“What an evening,” he thought, “what an evening. When is it going to end ?”

“There is no going back,” Frits thought. “Let us adopt an impassive or, if need be, even cheerful expression.”

 

Things take place around us. Yet we barely notice them. We have ears, but we hear not, eyes but do not see.

“I just wish I could figure out when you’re being serious”.

“‘Don’t pay him any mind,’ his father said, ‘he’s only blathering'”.

“‘And now the moment for tears has arrived,’ he thought. His eyes grew moist.” — breaking the hard shell of indifference he tries to maintain
“All in all, it is dreary,” he thought, “most dreary.”

“It is no disaster to be unhappy,” Frits thought, “but how discouraging must it be to know that there is nothing to pin the blame on, outside oneself ?”

“Help us, O eternal one, our God. See us in our distress. From the depths we call to you. Hideous.””

“Deliver me from baldness,” he said, pushing back his hair and examining the hairline. “It is a gruesome infliction.”

The Year is no more, I am alive, I breathe, and I move, so I live… whatever ordeals are yet to come, I am alive.

‘I just sit here and sit here and don’t do a thing,’ he thought. ‘The day’s half over.’ It was a quarter past twelve.

‘Why do I think that way?’ he thought then. ‘What right do I have to be so blasé?’

‘This day was empty,’ Frits thought, ‘I realize that.’

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