Wednesday 29 April 2015

The Twin

Finished April 28
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer

This novel is narrated by Helmer, the surviving brother of twins. His (slightly) younger brother Henk died thirty years ago in a car accident. The car was driven by Henk's fiance, Riet. A few days after the funeral, Henk and Helmer's father told Riet to go away, that he didn't ever want to see her again.
A few years ago, Helmer's mother died, and his father is deteriorating, unable to walk. Helmer has suddenly decided to change things at the house, moving his father up to his old room, and moving himself into the bedroom on the main floor that was his parents. He cleans and paints as well, throwing out some furniture and storing other pieces in the room that was his brother's.
His neighbour Ada and her sons Teun and Ronald often stop by, although Win, Ada's husband does not. Teun and Ronald love Helmer's donkeys, crawling into their stalls, feeding them carrots. Helmer was the one who had to give up his university, stay home and become a farmer after Henk died. Henk was supposed to be the one to take over the farm, to deal with the sheep and the dairy cows. But it was expected that Helmer would take over and so he did.
Helmer's relationship with his father is a difficult one, based on a harsh upbringing and years of resentment. Helmer looks after his father's needs, but he doesn't really care for him it seems. Has he moved him upstairs as a step towards his father's eventual death?
Riet has suddenly contacted Helmer, asking him to take her son on as a farmhand. But it is uncertain whether that is all she really wants. The son, also named Henk, is still finding himself and the two men, Henk and Helmer form a relationship that is more than farmer and farmhand.
I found the ending both surprising and not. In many ways you could see it coming. This is a book of regret, of hopes, of waiting. Helmer is waiting, his father is waiting, Riet is waiting, the hooded crow that sits on the tree outside the farmhouse is waiting.

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