The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker first came to my attention as I sought recent prize-winning novels for my Literary Masters book groups to read. The Twin won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for 2010. I read a couple of bloggers’ reviews and the book sounded a tad slow and dull, not something that would appeal to my members. My library doesn’t carry it, and I never saw it in any book store, so it sort of fell off my radar.
Then one day recently I visited a local school’s book fair and there it was. And it just looked so…inviting. I know that’s silly. I mean, I’ve blogged about whether one should judge a book by its cover, but there was something about the aesthetics of this book that compelled me to buy it.
I’m so glad that I did.
I felt like I escaped into a different world while I read this book. The prose is spare but so captivating, I had a hard time putting the book down and looked forward to curling up with it whenever I had the chance.
The setting is a farm in Holland that seems to have escaped the progress of time. Helmer, the narrator and son who lives on the farm with his now dying father, seems to have missed the progress of time, but not of his own choosing. We find out that Helmer is the surviving twin of Henk, who died twenty years previously in an accident caused by his then fiance, Riet. Banished from the family, Riet hasn’t been heard from in twenty years. Out of the blue, she contacts Helmer to ask if he will take on her somewhat troubled son, also named Henk, as a farm-hand. Young Henk comes to stay for awhile, and the reader now not only spends time with Helmer, his dad, and the young Henk, but also encounters the many ghosts that Helmer conjures as he shares his memories.
The thing about this book is that the writing makes it seem like there’s nothing going on; the daily life as described by Helmer, the narrator, isn’t exactly exciting. He tells us about his redecorating the house, taking care of the farm animals, interacting with the few people he comes in contact with.
And then every so often, something happens–something significant–and the reader realizes that there is a whole heck of a lot going on. The writing is so subtle, though, the depth of the story as well as the depth of the characters can be missed. You know by now that when I read a book I always have my book groups in mind. Will the members find it fascinating? Does it lend itself to a good discussion? Well, I can’t say the tone and pace of the book are for everyone, but there is plenty there to “dig deep into.”
There is emotion and feeling pulsing beneath the restraint of the surface–of both the writing and the characters. And there’s plenty of metaphors sitting there just waiting to be ‘dug into’ by a book group. Clocks, crows, the rooms of the house and other spaces, are just a few.
I look forward to reading this book again so I can glean more than I did the first time. And I know I’ll enjoy re-reading it; it’s just that pleasurable.