Saturday, 28 August 2021

June

Finished August 23
June by Gerbrand Bakker, translated by David Colmer

I had previously read Bakker's novel The Twin and really enjoyed it. This novel is set in two time periods, both on the same day in June. On Tuesday, June 17th in 1969, Queen Juliana stops in a town for lunch. She is on a tour of this part of the Netherlands, and has already visited other towns in the morning. She is accompanied by an artist who has been commissioned to make a sculpture of her, a woman who is also a sister of the Order of the Sisters of Charity. Also accompanying her is a woman who is a representative of the government and who briefs her on the places she is visiting, the people she is scheduled to see, and other pertinent information. The Queen would prefer the young secretary travelling in another car to be her companion and thinks about how to make that change. As she meets local dignitaries and steps outside the planned itinerary a couple of times, she notices things: the people that she sees along the roads she travels, the names of farms she passes, the manner and gestures of people, shops and vehicles, landscape and more. She is polite, but also a bit of a rebel.
Several of the people she notices or interacts with are also prominent in the June decades later. It begins with a woman lying in the straw in the loft of a barn. She is thinking about the past, both the long ago past and a more recent one, her fiftieth wedding anniversary. She thinks about how different the anniversary would have been if she'd had a daughter there instead of just three sons, how more pleasant it would have gone. Her three sons are gradually revealed to the reader, Klaas, married with a daughter of his own, Dieke, who plays a large role here; Jan, who lives in Texel and has not married, and who has a task he has taken on this day in the cemetery nearby; and Johan, who has been changed due to an accident he had several years ago and lives in a group home. As we gradually learn about the woman in the hay, why she has retreated there from her family, and learn about this habit of hers when she is upset and needs to think, we also learn about the event in 1969 that changed the family forever. 
The three sons have issues of their own and these are also revealed through both their own thoughts and actions and through her memories. We see the issues in their lives and how they react to them. Dieke has her own questions about what is happening on this day. Why is her grandmother in the loft and behaving in the way she is? What is her uncle Jan doing and why? We see her interactions with her parents and her own secrets. 
There are also two other characters featured outside the family. One is the town baker, a lonely man haunted by the past, and a woman recently returned to the town who has resentments, memories, and impulses of her own. 
There are so many subtleties here, and underlying stories. Even the animals have significance, the ones on the farm, the birds in the cemetery, the various dogs who appear. Also plants from trees to potted cactuses, have a meaning and play a role in what happens.
Looking through the book again after reading, I noticed more things, and saw deeper connections between the events that occur. On the surface, little happens in the book, and yet there is so much that is revealed on these days separated by time but linked in several ways. 

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