The Discovery of Heaven Read Along, Part II

This is the second post for the The Discovery of Heaven read along, as hosted by me throughout May and June. If you’re interested, read more information about the read along here. If you have posted about part I yourself, feel free to leave the link below and I will include them at the bottom of this post.

The Discovery of Heaven Read Along

Here we are, at the end of the beginning. I am enjoying the book now, more so than I did the first part. However, I cannot shake some of the criticisms I had 2 weeks ago.

In this second part of the book, Ada, Onno and Max are back in the Netherlands. Ada soon discovers she is pregnant and Onno proposes to her thinking the child is his. However, Max knows the child might as well be his and finds it hard to face Onno because of his guilt. When Ada and Onno visit Max at his work in Westenbork, Ada is called that her father had a heart attack. When they hasten home, all three of them are in a car crash and while neither Max and Onno are hurt, Ada gets into a coma. While she does not wake up, her child survives. When Max goes to Leiden to tell Ada’s mother, Max and Mrs. Brons sleep together. This leads to them regularly having sex. Since Onno is unable to take care of the child alone, due to his political career, Ada’s mother moves to Westerbork to raise the child together with Max.

Ah, the intrigue. Here it is: Ada slept with Max and Onno on the same night. And so, theoretically, we do not know who the father is. Except that, we know, because at the very beginning of the book it is said that the child has to be Max’s. I liked this idea of telling a story through different perspectives and thus getting knowledge from different sources. You seem to form a broader idea of the why and what of what is happening, and yet, you are always left to question the little details: are these matters of choice, or decisions of the “Angels”?

What I still find problematic is the way Mulisch writes about women. They are not really plot devices to drive the story along, but because of the thorough characterisation of Max and Onno, and the noticeably little attention for Ada (or later her mother), I cannot escape the feeling that Harry Mulisch just didn’t care so much. And frankly, the “Ada’s in a coma now” felt like a way of not having to address the issue of who Ada is or isn’t. I remember from last time that I read this book, and I felt the same rereading it now, that I really wanted to have a better or bigger story for Ada, I felt she deserved some meaningful words at the end. I remember going back and rereading the last few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed anything Ada said, and I did the same this time. I know, it is the cruelty of life and death that is portrayed perfectly in this scene: being there at one moment, not being there at another. But I was searching for more. Also for more of an impact on me, that Ada is now in danger of life. Something like shock or emotion, but you are almost not allowed to feel it. And I really do believe that part of this is Mulisch inattention to his female characters. Additionally, can I just say a loud “EW” for the details about Max and Ada’s mother having sex, and Mrs. Brons’ supposed special vagina?

But there is also the subtle storytelling of Mulisch. He does know how to build up his story. I was fascinated with the funeral scene. Where you know it to be the funeral of Ada’s father, but you feel like it is really Ada’s, because that is who you are thinking about the whole time.

How are you enjoying the book thus far?

Alex of the Sleepless Reader wrote an interesting post on part 1 and 2, bringing up several points of discussion.

If you have written a post on part 2 (or on several parts) of The Discovery of Heavenrecently, please leave me a note and I will add the link to this post.

7 thoughts on “The Discovery of Heaven Read Along, Part II

  1. Pingback: The Discovery of Heaven Read-a-Long: Week 2 « Leeswammes' Blog

  2. winstonsdad

    I ve still on hundred pages Iris ,I m off this week and plan to catch up sorry been busy in london then was tired this weekend ,what read so far is very deep and on so many levels ,all the best stu

  3. Suzanne

    I’m enjoying the book very much so far and wrote about parts 1&2 so far:
    I find your comments about Ada interesting — yes I probably would like to know more about her as well, but based on the introduction to the novel it seems to me that she was only a vehicle to bring the next generation of the Delius/Quist grand plan into being. I have only just started on part 3 and perhaps her mother may take on a stronger role, but I think that the story is about Max and Onno (and now the baby) and everything else is just background.

  4. Alex

    Yes, he’s not very keen on the women’s perspective and the coma really felt like an easy way out. I would like to read something else by him, just to see if it’s something he always does. Do you think it’s lack of interest in his women characters? Laziness? Lack of skill?

    When he presents Sophia with almost dual personality where one is emotionless and the other just a body in the night (agree: EW!), it also feel like a plot device to keep her from becoming a real 3 D character.

  5. Leeswammes

    Alex, I also wondered whether Ada is in a coma because he doesn’t need her anymore (except to make sure Onno stays married to him so he can’t start a new family and take little Quinten off Max).

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

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