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Book Review: The Discomfort of Evening| Author: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Reviewed by Ramchandra KC

The Discomfort of Evening written in Dutch by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translated to English by Michele Hutchison has been chosen as the winner of the International Booker Prize, 2020.

Rijneveld was announced as the winner by the chair of the prize judging panel, Ted Hodgkinson, who described the book as “a tender and visceral evocation of a childhood caught between shame and separation.” This feat makes Rijneveld the first Dutch writer and youngest author to clutch the prestigious International award winner for their debut novel.

Born in 1991, the 29-year-old author and poet who identifies as non-binary and prefers the personal pronouns they/them has previously published two books of poetry, Kalfsvlies (2015), and Fantoommerrie (2019). However, it was their novel, The Discomfort of Evening that will earn them worldwide recognition as an intriguing fictional writer.

This remarkable novel tells the story of Jas Mulder, a 10-year-old girl who lives with her devout Christian farming family, in the rural Netherlands.

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On a chilly winter day, while her older brother Matthies goes ice skating, Jas wishes he would die instead of her pet rabbit, Dieuwertje who she feels her father was fattening to butcher for Christmas. Her brother never returns as he dies falling through thin ice and grief overwhelms the family.

Through the eyes of Jas, we experience firsthand as her family, overcome with grief over the loss of their son, begins to fall apart. The family will also have to endure yet again another pain following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease on the farm, resulting in the decimation of their cattle.

Hidden in the remaining pages of this novel are odd findings and shocking revelations about each character that defines their existence.

Ramchandra KC

For Jas, these include a red coat she refuses to take off, her thinking that she is both Hitler and a pedophile, the frogs she hides under her bed hoping they’d mate and the drawing pin she leaves stuck in her navel. Her surviving brother, Obbe, obsessively bangs his head against the edge of his bed frame and drowns his hamster in a water glass, while her mother who Jas believes hides Jewish people in their basement refuses to eat an ever increasing list of certain foods.

It is Rijneveld’s ability to express and communicate all the character’s emotions and personalities in an agile manner that makes for an interesting read.