April 11, 2006

Gerard Reve (1923-2006)

One of the great writers in the Dutch literary canon died over the weekend. His Wikipedia entry (in English) is here, a Dutch obituary is here.
Gerard Reve was a rather controversial figure, and you know you have to try really hard to be controversial in that liberal bastion of 1960s and 70s Netherlands. He kicked against the petit-bourgeois ultra-conservative sensibility with his lurid descriptions of his (literary) love life, involving imagery such as God disguised as a donkey he wanted to have sex with (he was acquitted for blasphemy on that one). But he was not averse to irk liberals either: he was blacklisted by the Amsterdam City Council for visiting South Africa under apartheid and writing about it in a pro-apartheid magazine.
He had a rather inimitable writing style, all baroque sentences with dozens of sub-clauses, which makes him not very easy to read but once you get into it, it's all rather stylishly marvellous.
Content-wise he is very hard going: combining obsessions such as Roman-Catholicism, death, extreme violence and boy arse.
I'm re-reading "De Taal Der Liefde" and "Lieve Jongens" and despite all that rather Freudian carry-on it is really good fun in a perverse way. He writes marvellously about Love for his men/boys expressed in the most unusual ways.
His biography mentions he broke off co-operation with a newspaper because a translator stated he was almost impossible to translate, so I'm not sure whether there are any good English translations available. You may have heard of, or even seen, films based on his work such as Paul Verhoeven's "The Fourth Man".

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