Published for the first time in English, this is the 1947 debut novel by controversial Dutch writer Reve (1923-2006), who went on to a rich career offending Dutch sensibilities.
He’s a mean man. He’s a sick man. No, he’s just a bored man, although he does spend time pondering what to do with the solid contents of his nose, deciding that the best place for them is the underside of a chair: “wherever you go, if you feel around under the chair the pieces of dried snot fall to the floor.” It is Christmastime, a year and a half after the end of World War II, and Frits van Egters is thoroughly disaffected. The young man works in a meaningless office job, pushing paper from one stack to another. He’s a Dostoyevski-an character in his malaise and spitefulness, but Frits is more or less than that; he still lives at home, tormenting his mother on the details of how to properly smoke a cigarette, giving his pimply brother a hard time; if the war were still going on, Frits might well be working for the bad guys, but now he’ll spend the days between Christmas and the New Year wandering around Amsterdam loudly voicing his barely post-juvenile opinions about things to whomever will listen, including a stuffed rabbit when no human is available: “Rabbit, I am alive. I breathe, and I move, so I live. Is that clear? Whatever ordeals are yet to come, I am alive.” Alive, yes, but an irredeemably unpleasant twerp all the same, given to killing insects and thinking about edema. Not much happens because not much is meant to happen, as if to say that apart from the occasional invasion by a malevolent neighbor life is pretty dull. If listless existentialism is your bag, then this is your book, which, though written well enough, hasn’t aged particularly well.
Unpretty but true to life—at least life of a sort, however uninteresting.