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A mini book review – Nieuwe Buren

16 Mar

I thought it would be nice to start reviewing the books I read, from the perspective of a learner. So…

Nieuwe Buren (in English, New Neighbours) is an accessible book for someone with B1/2 level reading in Dutch. The language is quite simple and based on action rather than description. For this reason it shouldn’t be considered a example of spectacular Dutch writing (or so my Dutchies inform me) but it is an interesting read.

The story is about a couple who have been trying for years to have a baby, finally get pregnant but unfortunately their baby is stillborn. Years of sex for the sake of getting pregnant and difficult artificial insemination treatments have left their relationship cold and it is at this point that they move into what would have been their dream home, had they have had a healthy baby to complete their family. The house is brand new, in a housing estate. They meet another couple, in the house opposite who offer them both a way out of their pain. And here’s where I stop before I spoil the rest of the book.

The book is narrated by the first couple. Both of them, alternately. Therefore you get two different perspectives of what’s going on, which often clash due to the characters’ lack of communication. All four characters are in many ways rather repulsive people who keep secrets from each other and seem to have no shame in destroying their relationships with each other.

In an interview (in Dutch) Saskia explains that the book is a critique of the sterile cookie cutter suburban world and the attempts of individuals to differentiate themselves from their neighbours. I honestly wouldn’t have got this from the book without having read the interview because other than the character of Peter, one of the two narrators, all of them seemed to have immersed themselves in this way of life without a hint of real rebellion. Peter is the only one who really delivers this message through the author’s frequent use of mostly English language song lyrics throughout his narrative. (It just so happens that Saskia Noort and I share the same taste in music (rock) : D)

All in all, I give it three stars (***) since the story had me hooked but now and then I got a little sick of the characters and the rather unrealistic chain of events.

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