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Let's put this one in the psychological thriller category, because someone is playing psychological games with Maria's mind and the prose has a pace worthy of a thriller. In Back to the Coast, Maria, an Amsterdam-based singer with a covers band already has two children by two different fathers and then she finds herself pregnant again (by the second). Feeling that circumstances are not ideal to bring another child into the world, she has an abortion. Following this, a set of communication and stalking starts which sees Maria fleeing back to the coast of her childhood and refuge at her sister's, in what used to be the parental B&B of their awkward upbringing, now converted into a family home. Just who is stalking Maria and for what purpose?
It is relatively easy (and quite early on) to determine the main suspect, but this doesn't distract from a good story, confidently delivered. You may work out who it is – odds are that you will – but you will still want to know the outcome and the reasons why. That can only be achieved by reading the book to the end. The children are beautifully depicted and very real. Maria's strength and fear explode off the page. Mental illness and the lack of understanding in a former generation are made true. Survival mechanisms are explored with due regard.
The Dutch trait of directness is in evidence here; bodily functions and a set of bathroom ablutions leave no stone unturned. When it comes to "…squeezing blackheads, cleaning ears, filing nails, pushing back cuticles, removing calluses…" the British reader might recoil with a comment of "too much information". But there is also something refreshing to be found in such openness into the lives of those in the novel.
For a classic irony, I loved this passage:
'…In the end, I switched on the television and watched some stupid reality show about six young people sharing a luxury villa in Spain, hopping in and out of each others' beds and dying to let the whole world know about it. "It's all just a game," an annoyingly self-assured young man laughed. He infuriated me. Everything infuriated me. The guy playing dirty tricks on his female housemates in front of the camera. The people wanting to watch this. The world's progressive loutishness. The fact that mind games appeared to have become a form of public entertainment…'
Let's not forget that it was the Dutch who unleashed the Big Brother TV phenomenon to the rest of the world. (And it's good to read that not all are in support of the result.)
I found this such a good and simple read, direct to the point and entertaining that I immediately ordered a copy of her first translated novel – but second in the original Dutch, as they have been translated out of order – The Dinner Club. Both are published in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press and are available now.