Tuesday 7 September 2021

Book Review: The Discomfort of Evening, by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

The Discomfort of EveningThe Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a bookclub book - and what a book! It certainly provided a lot of discussion as there was so much to pick apart.

Be aware that this book may contain triggers over loss of a child, incest or suicide.

We follow a character Jas at the age of 10 to 12, through her thoughts on her life and the events that happen to her and her family, which starts with her elder brother's death, and then foot and mouth disease striking the family farm. It is a stream of consciousness ramble, which goes off on tangents, some not always very clear and some disturbing as she desperately tries to process the death of her brother and the withdrawl of her parents attention, affection and care for her and her other two siblings, without being able to express her emotions, thoughts, and ideas verbally, or have a conversation with any adult in world.

The main character is part of a heavily religious farming family, who are part of a strict reformed protestant church called The Black Stocking Church. The narrative in the book is full of religious scripture which is used to keep everyone in their place and oppressed, and it is through this lens that Jas tries to filter all the events and her emotions.

I have spent the last 18 years living in a small village in the Netherlands where this church is present, along a dike and surrounded by farms, so it was not difficult for me to understand the culture and way these people live. It actually felt like an insider view on them - all be it a distressing one.

This book was disturbing in a way that I didn't anticipate. It was less shock and horror and more an insidious feelings of upset as I realised this child (and their siblings) were being neglected to an extreme degree due to their parents being unable to cope and support each other through the loss of one of their children. It showed how little support their church community gave them, in fact how they were being judged and oppressed by it - this is not a book that shows religion in a favourable light.

Some might find the interactions Jas has with her siblings occasionally perverse and edging on sexual abuse, but when three children are left unattended with no nurturing, comforting, or loving from their parents, or any adults, over an extended period of time (2 years), it can result in them seeking ways to comfort themselves and each other in ways that aren't quite right especially when left without guidance and unobserved.

Many of our bookclub members didn't finish this book as they found it too much of a struggle due to its distressing themes, and is written and formatted in such a way that makes it hard to follow. But there are lines of extreme profound observation throughout the book across many subjects, which is no doubt why it achieved award winning status.

I likened this book to The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which I still consider one of the most disturbing books I've ever read - and my favourite authors are all horror writers (King, Barker, Herbert) - but the elements that make The Discomfort of Evening disturbing are less cruel and more innocent. It is a book that stays with you long after you have read it, as you continue to process what you have read.

I gave it a four star as it did contain a few simple typos and could have been formatted with more paragraph breaks to make it easier to read.

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