Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen

Tomorrow Pamplona - Jan van MersbergenTomorrow Pamplona – Jan van Mersbergen
Peirene Press, June 2011
Translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Tomorrow Pamplona is about a boxer, Danny, who is on the run after what appears to be his last fight. He receives a lift from Robert, who is on his way to Pamplona, to run with the bulls. While we follow Robert and Danny on their road trip to Pamplona, through flashbacks, the reader slowly discovers what made Danny run.

This is the thing about Peirene Press books: they promise to give you a whole story in just over a hundred pages (granted, this particular book is a little longer) and they always deliver. But this also means that there are twists and turns in these books, or in this case, a true punch in the gut, that has you wondering how to talk about them without giving anything away. Yes, this story packs a punch as it was once said by the publisher. It had me reeling. Throughout the book you feel, somehow, that this might be what is coming, but you don’t want to believe it – at least I didn’t. And then when, in the end, you find out that your worst fears were right somehow, you are left to wonder just what to think, how to judge, if you even should..

When Meike and I first got into contact, she told me that Peirene Press would be publishing a Dutch book in 2011. And I thought it was so nice of her to comment on where I was from, and yet I did not really know what to say, since I so often proclaimed that Dutch literature isn’t for me. And then part of the publicity for the book was that it had two great sex scenes in under 200 pages. And I admit, I became a little more doubtful of whether this was the book for me. But, I was wrong to doubt. The sex scenes didn’t bother me and the story is a great one, that is, more importantly, told in a superb manner.

The style of the book is really  what made me enjoy Tomorrow Pamplona so much. The narrative has an uncommon flow to it. The writing is fast paced, and yet it allows you room to breathe. And once Danny and Robert are in Pamplona, time almost seems to stop. It made me want to push time on, somehow, push the characters a little too. And that is the moment I realised that Van Mersbergen succeeded, since he engaged me, so much so that I wanted to help the characters, do something for them, help them make a decision whether they should run or face what is coming for them. And it is that very fact, the fact that I cared, which made the ending all the more intense and confusing.

Tomorrow Pamplona is a very urgent read. It hides so much anger and frustration just below the surface that at times it scared me a little. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Really, it is one of the true strengths of the book.

What this book showed me is that I can appreciate Dutch literature, even the more fast-paced kind. The kind I used to be doubtful about before, but now feel really excited about. And that is saying something. Jan van Mersbergen proved how wrong I was, scorning Dutch literature all these years. There, I have admitted I was wrong.

I received a review copy of this book from the wonderful Peirene Press

* This is an affiliate link. If you buy a product through this link, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

15 responses to “Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen

  1. It is confronting at times, but it’s certainly a compelling read. I loved the way the writer varied the pace, with the action slowing down the closer they got to Pamplona. I think the sex scenes (and the violence) could put a few people off though – definitely (as I think I said in my review) more of a man book ;)

  2. I think most book bloggers have read it by now? I haven’t as I don’t really see why I would read it in English if I can read the Dutch.

    Iris, why did you read this in English? :-)

    My library’s (Dutch) copy has gone missing so I had to reserve it from another library. Maybe it’s so good that copies go “missing” from libraries? We’ll see.

  3. I totally agree with you in the fact that it punches you in the gut. I did so not see the twist coming!

  4. Sounds very interesting. I’ll certainly look for a copy. Also wanted to let you know I’ll be posting a Dutch (children’s) book on Friday on my blog and linking back to you.

  5. Great review. And quite a shocking punch at the end from the book isn’t it?

  6. I felt the same way about the writing style. What’s interesting is that it makes you want to keep reading while it moves along slowly, patiently. So much to think about!

  7. I think I’m one of the very few who haven’t read this yet, but I was interested to see what you thought of it. Wonderful that it coincided with your Dutch Literature Month.

  8. Nice review – there is indeed a lot just beneath the surface. When you say “The writing is fast paced, and yet it allows you room to breathe”, I think perhaps the room to breathe is because there is so much that’s left unsaid, by both characters, so there’s a lot of space for us as readers to fill in the blanks.

  9. Danny’s taciturn almost monosyllabic style says a lot without actually saying a lot, the way the style drags you forward makes this a really compelling read & that moment slams on the brakes & leaves you gasping, wondering how to react, loved this book as I said In my post. Great review & I’m glad It’s re-appraising your opinion of your nations Lit.

  10. I loved the way the road trip element gave Danny’s story space to be told piece by piece until the climax.

  11. I haven’t read this yet but fel like doing so after your review. Fast paced but leaving room to breathe sounds very appealing

  12. This is a wonderful showpiece for modern dutch literature ,Iris I loved fact you readf it in english ,did it seem dutch in translation thou did you get feel of dutch people speaking I did a bit ,I loved sitting in cafes when I lived nearby and here people talk the rhythm of dutch is wonderful ,and I felt Laura got this ,all the best stu

  13. I thought the publicity was that there were three sex scenes in under 200 pages? Either way, this is certainly the sexiest book Peirene has published so far.

    I noticed that about the narrative too – that it’s fast-paced yet there are moments of stillness. I don’t know if you’ve read The Sun Also Rises (which also involves the Pamplona bull run) too, but both books have a lot of strong emotions shimmering beneath terse, straightforward prose. Tomorrow Pamplona would be a great Hemingway companion read.

  14. Pingback: A Month of Dutch Literature: Looking Back | Iris on Books

  15. Pingback: Dutch Lit Month: Books by a Few of Bloggers’ Favourite Publishers | Iris on Books

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