The Book Club / Marjolijn Februari; translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent.
London: Quercus, 2011, c2007.
This is a novel which raises serious questions of morality and integrity, as well as truth hidden within a conspiracy of silence. The author studied philosophy and political science, and these preoccupations drive this novel.
Theresa Pellikaan is a typical middle aged, middle class woman living a rather comfortable life of leisure. But she is feeling some boredom in this life, which she is just beginning to recognize. Her husband John is a politically influential figure, while her father Randalf is a respected constitutional lawyer. The main social activity for Randalf's intellectual circle in their small town is his book club, which he has just inveigled John into joining. After all, he says, "Sooner or later every person with a sense of responsibility joins a book club".
Theresa, looking for some freshness, suggests that the book club read the new bestseller written by a former schoolmate, Ruth Ackermann, for something different. It's roundly rejected by all the members of the book club, and Theresa is taken aback by their vehemence. Surely it can't be just because it's a bit sensational, a bit of a genre work.
So Theresa begins to investigate, casually at first, then with more insistence after getting in touch with another old classmate, journalist Victor Herwig. What she discovers shocks her with its level of callousness and lack of empathy, an international scandal which implicates her own father and his circle of high-powered book club members.
The story is fascinating, and is apparently based on a real event in recent Dutch history. The book is a bit dry, and reads like a political thesis at times, really showing the author's education and concerns with journalistic truth. Nevertheless, I found it unusual and very interesting in its focus on responsibility, culpability and integrity. Also, within this dry, suspenseful story there was a light touch, a wry sense of amusement about some of the characters and their everyday situations.
To me, the conclusion could have used more punch -- Ruth Ackermann comes to town to read from her sensational new novel (based on her time in a psychiatric institution) and the book club, in fear and trembling, goes along to hear her. She reads, she carries on, she does not blame or reveal what she knows. Each person is left alone to wrestle with their own conscience.
This was a random discovery, and one that I found fully engaging. If you are interested in questions of character and want to explore a very Dutch setting, you may like this one.