Dröge’s (The Consortium, 2016, etc.) novel explores the fraught relationship between a Dutch businessman and his artist daughter.
A series of bizarre occurrences, including a high-profile art burglary, have brought Henk van Wijnen-Swarttouw’s shipyard business empire, centered in the massive port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, teetering at the edge of collapse. He becomes distracted from these troubles, however, when he walks past the art gallery he owns and sees a painting of his naked teenage daughter hanging in the window. Julia is 18, recently graduated from high school, and taking a sabbatical year before beginning her medical studies—or so Henk hopes. During this time, he’s lent Julia the use of the gallery, but it seems that her foray into the art world is starting to snowball into a form of protest. She’s interested in environmental issues and wants her father to renounce his capitalistic practices and transform his company into a paragon of sustainability. Henk, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with knowing everything he can about his daughter’s life. Soon, Henk is seeing a psychiatrist, and he and Julia are forced to negotiate the future of their relationship—as well as the future of their Rotterdam community. That city is central to Dröge’s novel, which effectively employs a number of the city’s characters to illustrate its interconnected nature. The plot is hampered by the author’s dense prose, though, which is overwritten and given to awkward syntax: “Cor Figee crossed, while understanding as well as embarrassed he let down his hand and forced his head away from the car, in which Henk was searching for the right information on the dashboard.” Shifts between different characters’ points of view, as well as between first and third person, occur with little warning and jostle readers out of the story. Dröge does make an admirable attempt to grapple with worthy themes—environmental degradation, familial tensions, the nature of art. But his plot is less than compelling, and the reading experience ends up being something of a slog.
dense, tedious novel about combustive family issues.