Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Misfortunates by Dimitri Verhulst (3.5/5)

First published: 2007
Original title: De helaasheid Der Dingen
Original language: Dutch
Translation to English by: David Colmer, 2012

Page count: 200

The back says: Sobriety and moderation are alien concepts to the men in Dimmy's family.

Useless in all other respects, his three uncles have a rare talent for drinking, a flair for violence, and an unwavering commitment to the pub. And his father Pierre is no slouch either. Within hours of his son's birth, Pierre plucks him from the maternity ward, props him on his bike, and takes him on an introductory tour of the village bars. His mother soon leaves them to it and as Dimmy grows up amid the stench of stale beer, he seems destined to follow the path of his forebears and make a low-life career in inebriation, until he begins to piece together his own plan for the future...

I say: This was a far more disturbing read than I had anticipated, and since it is semi-autobiographical I feel a tad reluctant to say too mean things about the people involved. Not that I have that mean things to say, it’s just that the entire family made me uncomfortable and saddened. All that constant drinking and blatant disregard of anything or anyone outside of it showed a family that I am glad to not have been born into. Sure, they all did love each other, but even so.

Eating raw mince with maggots in it...

I didn’t like any of the characters or their escapades, in fact, the only thing that kept me reading was the writing itself. Verhults does an excellent job of describing the dismal living conditions with the uncompromising family pride that lead to brawls over the most mundane of things. They knew that they were not upstanding citizens – nor had they any desire to be – yet they didn’t want anyone to comment on their way of life.

Understandable foolish pride.

The novel is constructed as short stories telling what I assume to be the most significant events in Dimitri’s life, not following a chronological order, which I greatly approve of as it gave a bit of relief from the more miserable episodes. There was, what I believe to be, attempts at levity or even humour, but I was not amused.
The novel has also been turned into a film with the same title that I'll most likely never see.
3.5/5 mostly because I enjoyed Verhulst’s style of writing.

P.S. I love that cover.

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