I had forgotten that I won’t be near a computer this weekend, but I am looking forward to reading your posts and discussing our thoughts and ideas when I am able to check in again on Monday. Feel free to leave your links in the comments, visit each other if you want to, and I will make sure I check back later.
I’ve put Father upstairs. I had to park him on a chair first to take the bed apart. He sat there like a calf that’s just a couple of minutes old, before it’s been licked clean: with a directionless, wobbly head and eyes that drift over things. I ripped off the blankets, sheets and undersheet, leant the mattress and bed boards against the wall, and unscrewed the sides of the bed. I tried to breathe through my mouth as much as possible. I’d already cleared out the upstairs room – my room.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
‘You’re moving.’ I said.
‘I want to stay here.’
The opening scene of The Twin sets the tone for this book. What do we know? We know that we are on a farm, that Helmer is a farmer who lives with his ill father. In the opening scene, he moves his father’s bed upstairs, and basically isolates his father from anyone except those who take the trouble to visit upstairs. Not that the farm is a busy place. The Twin is steeped in loneliness. Its narrative consists of Helmer’s daily labour, and focuses on his reflections on that life, with glimpses of his hopes for the future, but mostly containing reflections on what might have been.
For Helmer was one half of a twin. His brother, the predestined heir to the farm, died in a car accident while his fiancé was behind the steering wheel. Suddenly, Helmer has to give up his studies in Amsterdam, and has to start living among the cows. Helmer does not like his father, for the ease with which he decided his future. He does not like (m)any people, for to him it seems that no one acknowledged his loss.
I did not think The Twin was an easy read, but it was definitely a worthwhile one. Not easy because it requires concentration. Bakker’s prose is deceptively straightforward at times, but he drops hints and clues, some of which are never resolved but that certainly make the reader lean in a certain direction. Helmer comes strangely close, even if I was not sure if I wanted to allow him my sympathy given that opening scene.
For me, The Twin is the kind of book that requires undivided attention and a certain reading mood. There were days where I did not particularly enjoy reading the book because I couldn’t really find the time. But there were others where I felt an enormous warmth for the beauty of the story and its prose, even if the story itself has decidedly darker undertones. An example is the scene where Helmer describes that fog is an aggrandized version of a drizzle. It is a detail, perhaps not important, but I was smiling because those few sentences in Dutch were so poignant and beautiful, so fitting, that it was one of the few times when I actually really liked the opportunities my own language brings. I am not sure what those sentences look like in translation, how some of the words were translated at all.. Perhaps you can enlighten me? Did you particularly love the prose, or was it something else that you liked best about this book?
I will give you an example of something that does not completely translate: the title. I think the Dutch one is better fitting than the English one, even if The Twin in itself works and definitely covers a lot of the content. However, the Dutch Boven is het stil is a little more subtle and therefore, in my view, more befitting of the book. Literally translated it would be “Upstairs it is quiet”, except that boven is not really “upstairs”, but could also be “overhead” or “above”. I know that makes little sense, but it’s the subtle difference that makes it work for me, it somehow evokes the loneliness and isolation of Helmer?
Another thing that I might have imagined, but that definitely had an influence on how I read this book, is how Helmer’s life compares to the idyllic picture some have of farms. Take the particular popularity in the Netherlands of a show like “Farmer wants a Wife”. To me, it seems that Bakker plays with this picturesque setting, the quiet life that we probably all dream about from time to time, while contrasting it with Helmer’s struggles, or well.. the hint of his struggles.
What did you make of the hints and clues throughout the book? What, for example, do you make of Helmer’s elusive sexuality that nonetheless drives the book (in part)? The hints of The Twin are not the same as the ones in The Dinner. Both have a dark, a sad, a uncomfortable, undertone, but where Koch chose the extreme, Bakker chose a much more subtle approach, and “dark” and “dark” are definitely nothing alike in both books. I think I prefer the latter style. It was the subtlety and therefore its very.. reality(?) that I particularly enjoyed about The Twin.
I will remember reading this for a long time, I am sure. I enjoyed The Twin for its very accomplished - and oh so beautiful – writing and storytelling. Writing about it afterwards I feel a great warmth towards the book. Some of this is hindsight, as I did not always love it while reading. It is appreciation more than an immediate personal attachment – and yet, I will warmly recommend this book.
How about you, what were your thoughts upon reading The Twin? Will you be reading more by Bakker? I will be posting about The Detour in the upcoming days and I am curious how you think it compares if you have read it.