Focus on The Discomfort of Evening - International Booker Prize 2020

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The International Booker Prize is awarded every year for a single book that is translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It aims to encourage more publishing and reading of quality fiction from all over the world and to promote the work of translators.

The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.

The Discomfort of Evening

Jas lives with her devout farming family in the rural Netherlands. One winter’s day, her older brother joins an ice skating trip. Resentful at being left alone, she makes a perverse plea to God; he never returns. As grief overwhelms the farm, Jas succumbs to a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies, watching her family disintegrate into a darkness that threatens to derail them all.

A bestselling sensation in the Netherlands by a prize-winning young poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s debut novel lays everything bare. It is a world of language unlike any other, which Michele Hutchison’s striking translation captures in all its wild, violent beauty.

Hythe Remainers

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About the group

We are a relatively recently formed group located in a small South East coastal town in Kent. A group of residents formed an activist anti-Brexit group “Hythe Remainers” in 2018 – which campaigned to remain in Europe. As an off-shoot of that group, some of us developed a Book Group and decided to focus on reading contemporary books set in European countries, written by European authors or with a Brexit theme. Since our formation in September 2019 we have read a wide ranging selection of titles borrowed from Kent Public Libraries – Jonathan Coe’s Middle England, Aminatta Forna’s The Hired Man, John Le Carre’s Agent Running in the Field, Fredrik Backman’s A Man called Ove, Simon Mawer’s Prague Spring. 10-14 of us usually meet each month in each other’s homes. Plans are now afoot for a Zoom virtual group meeting along with making use of our Facebook group to communicate how we are getting on with our shortlisted book. Future reads we plan to read include Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, Amor Towles’s Gentleman in Moscow, and Leila Slimani’s Lullaby.

Thoughts on the book

12 members of our Book Group met for a one hour Zoom session. All of us had read the book, one in the original Dutch!.

Here are some notes from our discussion:

  • Impressed by it. A difficult book to read because of the grief exhibited by essentially a dysfunctional family breaking apart. Impressive writing. Brilliantly bleak and hopeless with some horrific, disturbing events. I did wonder why Social Services had not become involved but this was clearly a very enclosed religious fundamentalist community. A family in crisis and a child starved of love and care who feels guilt for her brother’s death. Horrific, traumatic events.
  • Very Dutch. Long sentences- God’s wrath, a plague and the Day of Judgement. North Sea Noir? Bleak landscape with no escape from a locked in community. The horrors keep piling up. An excellent translation – read very well.
  • An impressive achievement – strong authorial voice was profoundly moving and disturbing. Brilliantly written. An important book that I won’t forget in a hurry. Perceptive insights into family psychology, depression, mental illness. Reminded me of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son – religious, oppressive atmosphere. Also reminiscent of Hardy’s Jude. A disturbing and unpleasant read but one that will stay with me.
  • At times I felt like something of a voyeur reading it but i was gripped and kept on and am glad I did so. It resonated and rang true particularly some of the religious fundamentalism. Many of the shocking incidents were difficult to read but am pleased to have done so and it is a book that will stay with me .
  • Thoroughly depressing. I found all the references to snot, shit, spit, bums, poo, pus very distasteful and distressing. Content was so miserable and sad. Maybe a book for when I am in a better mental state and not in lockdown.
  • Descended to dreadful levels of depravity. I found it unbelievable that this was the voice of a 12/13 year old child – I kept hearing the voice of the writer rather than the child who seemed to have no moral compass.
  • Unpleasant, horrible, gratuitous horrors which seemed to be piled on. Claustrophobic atmosphere was very effective. Reminded me of bleak, barren, open Dutch landscapes in the National Gallery. The author very effectively painted you as a reader into that landscape and atmosphere.
  • Glad I read it – cleverly written but very disturbing. Good characterisation, and an insight into the confused and traumatised mind of a grieving child. Mind ramblings in her head. Were they too sophisticated for a child’s thinking though? Excellently written.
  • Loved the first part – accurate, sensitive and insightful portrayal of the world as seen through the eyes of the child protagonist. Imagery – animals and food. Toads, rabbits, chickens, hamsters, and of course cows! Desperate for love and care.
    Shocking depiction of emotional abuse and neglect was sometimes relentless and repetitive. Child who is a misfit at school. Reminded me at times of Mis-Lit Dave Pelter “Child called It” . Bleak, dark and sad. Horrific and shocking ending. Violence and ugliness.

Some questions:- Did we trust the Vet? Was he grooming her? Was the father an abuser? Licking her ear? Are there Jews hiding in the basement? Ropes? Thought that someone might hang themselves. Stream of consciousness style of writing- poetic or difficult to read due to lack of punctuation?

Our total score out of 10 was 86 so an average score of 7.5

Get involved

Have you read The Discomfort of Evening? Do you want to know what other readers thought? Leave your own review online.

Want to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for The Discomfort of Evening, including information about the author, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.

Find out about the other books on the shortlist.

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