IT’S LOVE WE DON’T UNDERSTAND by Bart Moeyaert

IT’S LOVE WE DON’T UNDERSTAND

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Age Range: 14 & up
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An oblique Dutch import challenges readers with three glimpses into the workings of a monumentally unhappy family. The characters are the unnamed narrator, a teenage girl; her loving but tormented older brother Axel; their sisters; and their wickedly self-centered mother. Successive, vividly realized episodes focus the narrative lens in excruciating detail on this hapless group. In the first, set in a wheatfield, Axel confronts their mother about her boyfriend, who has been sexually abusing him; in the second, the family prepares for the arrival of an unknown man curiously willed to them, a man the children hope will be a new father; in the third, the narrator carries on an imaginary conversation with Axel, now moved out, as she and her sisters attempt to establish themselves as a family in both his absence and their mother’s—she’s disappeared with a new boyfriend. Moeyaert (Hornet’s Nest, 2000, etc.) is a master of atmosphere—the reader feels the staggering heat of the wheatfield and the increase in tension as the standoff between Axel and his mother intensifies—but it is his ability to crystallize his narrator’s immediate emotional state that rings most true. The reader feels her blinding rage at her mother’s neglect, her pathetic hope that the family can be a family, her resignation as she finally gives up on her mother. The narrator and Axel agree that it’s love they don’t understand, at least as exemplified by their mother, but by the end, it is clear that on their own, the children are working toward their own independent understanding of love. To say that the writing is elliptical is an understatement, and an air of the surreal hangs over the whole, dislocating both characters and reader. Not an easy work, nor a fun one, but eerily effective and powerful. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: June 15th, 2002
ISBN: 1-886910-71-5
Page count: 128pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002




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