I've failed to write a review after finishing The Following Story
and now, a month later, I'm tempted to lower the rating (and I'm doing it); the book didn't linger in my mind, the story was almost forgotten the moment I closed the covers.
You know the kind of book that is complex, with beautiful prose resembling poetry in its flourishes, that instead of the simple words uses an array of magically constructed phrases ... Well, The Following Story
tried to be such a book, but didn't succeed - at least for me it didn't. It felt dry, like the unhappy result of a creative course in which the rule is to replace simple phrases with masterfully elaborated ones. I couldn't be swept by the pompous words line-up, I couldn't feel the magic, I couldn't truly relate to the novel.
I must acknowledge that some parts of the story were good, starting with the premise. One night, Herman Mussert goes to sleep in his house in Amsterdam and the following morning wakes up in a hotel room in Lisbon. Not any room, though, but the one that had witnessed his illicit affair with Maria, biology teacher at the school where Herman was teaching classic literature. What follows is a rememoration of his years spent in the city, with the prevailing figures of his mistress and of a brilliant student, Lisa d'India. The novel is filled with references about classics, but I have to admit I don't remember anything. Herman Mussert failed to be a good teacher for me. Or I might not be an exemplary student.
Another imagery that I liked was towards the ending, when Herman Mussert finds himself on a boat with some complete strangers, each recounting their story. I was kind of distracted by then, so I didn't immediately realize how he had ended up on the boat and what all that meant. I had to read the passage again to understand that all those people, including Herman, were on their last trip before the imminent end of their lives. They were recounting the way they were about to die, which I found really interesting.
I didn't truly understand to whom was Herman Mussert addressing his story - to the woman on the boat which might have impersonated death? - but I had no desire to read the book again and decipher it better. If any of you holds the answer, please let me know!
It's funny that, from the entire book, the image that was carved in my memory was the description of a necrophore beetle preparing a dead rodent's body for its larvae. I'm strangely drawn towards macabre stuff, so I found it quite interesting. I'm hesitant though to read more of Cees Nooteboom's books, as I'm afraid I might have the same reaction to his writing...