Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill

Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill / Dmitri Verhulst; translated from the Dutch by David Colmer.

London: Portobello, 2010, c2009.

145 p.

This brief book was a great find: it features Madame Verona, a renowned beauty whose husband dies young and in her grief she decides to stay in her house on the hill as long as it takes her to make a cello from the deciduous tree outside her home, even if cellos are usually made of spruce. This particular tree is special.

The village below, made up mostly of bachelors, is eager for her to choose one of them in her widowhood, but she stymies them all by remaining true to her husband's memory. The book begins as Madame Verona, aged 82, comes down the hill on a cold, snowy night. She sits in the town square and reminisces over the events of her life, in company with her dog. She and her late husband were both dog people: she decides that the virtue she will claim at heaven's gates is that she has always loved dogs.

It's told in a gentle narrative style, which reminds me slightly of José Saramago's style (fewer lengthy sentences and a bit more punctuation, though!) But the asides and the philosophical perspective of Madame Verona, as well as the ponderings about the deeper things in life (including the afterlife), recalls Saramago's themes. I enjoyed it despite its inherent sense of sadness. Various characters from the village are sketched out for us in addition to Madame Verona and her husband, and they all have something notable about them that makes them memorable.

I don't want to give away the storyline, as the discoveries as you go are part of the charm. But it's full of emotion, both regarding relationships and regarding tradition. There is affection for others, for a way of life. and Madame Verona herself is the pivot of the story. Really a lovely book; darkly moving, with lots of melancholy charm.

Other views:

Steph at Bella's Bookshelves reviewed this a while ago and says "Madame Verona is contemporary literature at its best, the kind that doesn’t smack of (self-conscious) contemporary literature, in fact, but rather stands alone and will likely pass the test of time into the realm of the classics. Or fables, as Madame Verona does herself."

Darren at Bart's Bookshelf said "Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill is a lightly told tale that conveys the sense of a love lost in a wonderful way, it may appear that nothing much happens in the book, and indeed it was only a little while after I had finished the book, that I realised just how well it had done its job."

Fleur Fisher says "Madame Verona Comes Down The Hill has at its heart a story that is simple, sad and lovely."


  1. This sounds good. I will have to add it to the list!

  2. Adding to tbr because it sounds good. Lovely cover, too!

  3. Kailana, Vintage Reading - glad I could tempt you to add it to the TBR! Yes, I really like the cover image too.


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