That one can suddenly distinguish a birch from a beech. That’s what the landscape does to you, the outdoor life that the main character in Nina Polak’s new novel has now surrendered to. The abundance of the oh-so-pure nature is alluring, or as Rivka puts it: ‘It made the world expand, when something that once had one name – wood – suddenly branched out into innumerable melodic categories.’
Rivka uses glowing, expensive words – maybe because that’s exactly the key that Polak likes to write in, you can outdoor life at least immediately the warm melodicity of her novels We will not smash (2014) and Lack is a big word (2018) recognize. But that tone is not used carelessly: in this novel, Polak also cleverly realizes that such words are not neutral.
This can be seen in Polak’s descriptions of the new land, which show the house of Rivka – a writer in her thirties – and her friend and dog Snibbe. It would do her good as a ‘too confident writer’, gardening, pulling out ‘unruly blades’, and that ‘garden indifference to anything to do with culture’. What a view: ‘The plant tree would give her a certain sovereignty.’ And her friend Esse ‘saw herself moving, weeding, digging, beating, running through the fields, taking pictures of what was left of the villages around them – the toothless laughter of a shop owner, an abandoned early medieval church’.
Also read the review of Polak’s second novel, Lack is a big word† How everything subtly correlates with everything
Polak writes that she could, with good reason, after all, have made Rivka think something along the lines of: that lands in the countryside will not be easy right away. But Polak lets her romanticize outdoors. Even decay (the toothless laugh, the abandoned church) is authentic and so beautiful. Even for something difficult are beautiful words (unruly, sovereignty).
Pompous city dweller
On the one hand, there is something bloody annoying, the naive, pompously worded urban look, but on the other hand, this attitude is crucial in outdoor life, and some irritation on the part of the reader may well be a precondition for fully experiencing that meaning (namely, its ambiguity). It’s a character trait: In a lonely moment, a city felt like ‘her mausoleum of lost loves’ – one could read a defense mechanism in Rivka’s formulations: if it is well said, then it may be true, and good. Then she should not think about it anymore. That says a lot about her life – and what character she is in this novel.
She also dreams of an incident that creates tumult: A homophobic text is chalked on a car at the municipality-like farm in a neighboring village. Rivka fantasizes about the perpetrators, ‘drinking, smoking, pissing in the ditch, lighting their bonfires, the liberated masculinity their greatest, their only good’ – almost romantic. And she calls a regional market filled with hobby beekeepers and felt artists ‘a colorful orgy of sociability’. The nonsense of talking about an ‘orgy’ in that context, one might say, but that exaggeration also seems significant: this is how Rivka always makes something out of it. It is the main instrument with which Polak tells the true story of his novel between the lines.
The apparent story: that Rivka and Esse go to live in the country and try to find their niche – Rivka with difficulty because the silence is not perfect, the writing stops, but she does not ‘believe’ in author blocking, ie ‘a fable that mystifies acquired ‘, whines. The idyll suits Esse better: She teaches basketball and takes care of the horses of a woman named Eva Alta, a psychiatrist (known from TV, to guru-like) and manager of the aforementioned municipal farm. Esse develops a great admiration for her, she becomes the main character in outdoor lifewhich affects Esse and her use of antidepressants.
The story between the lines: Rivka and Esse start to grow apart, locked inside their own heads and problems and unable to look good on themselves (‘sure writer’, ha!). The outdoor life draws the characters’ attention outward so much that they neglect their inner world.
This realization gradually grows in the reader as Polak switches between their two perspectives (which increasingly diverge). We take turns looking through Rivka’s and Esses ‘eyes, in a third-person perspective with very free indirect speech, ie where the characters’ experiences and thoughts run through the narrator’s text. Like when Esse is confronted with Rivka’s suspicion of Eva: ‘There was a budding friendship that Esse – sorry – did not allow herself to be blown away by her friend’s unfounded and – frankly – quite childish jealousy.’
Usually the judgments are disguised; so especially a good listener sees the bias of the characters. Eva Alta, one of the blinders, for example, judges, is so generous and hospitable that she “is one of the few people who is truly aware of their privilege.” And one who likes to surround himself with docile followers, one thinks as a reader. But do the characters see it? That question – and that there is a flip side to all that romanticization – makes you as a reader involved, and sometimes even annoyed, over the tragic disagreement. Does Riv-ka, who has already disqualified writing pads, think so when she says that it’s all a matter of [was] of faith. Esse thought she was suffering from depression, she thought she had no control over it, and she thought the pills helped. ‘
Also read a series about modern village life: Groningen space attracts and deters
More marmots than humans
That it all ends unfortunately is not a spoiler: outdoor life begins with a prologue that takes place when Rivka (again) lives in the city and feels more marmot than human, Esse has disappeared from his life, and a lawsuit is pending – a crime line (which has to do with the homophobia). Not that novel plot driven whether it can be called thriller-like or socially engaged: it is rather one of the contributing elements to the psychological novel that Polak’s novel is essentially.
Also read an interview with Polak about her first theater text: ‘In good dialogues you hear what is not said’
In the countryside, the two lovers are looking for all kinds of people to relate to, but each other less and less. As it erupts, Polak writes a battle scene that is rock solid, in meaningful dialogues (Rivka: ‘I just say that I think thinking … is powerful. That a person can think himself both in and out of the well ‘) and the silent play (“Rivka shouted so loud that Snibbe got up from under the chair and started shouting at her”) – and where it all fits together nicely. The pompous language, the cynical irony, the naive romanticization, the reader’s irritation over it (that is, this reader’s) and the hesitation about it again, and the tension building with a crime plot: the expectation that the novel eventually created. is fully met.