Willem Elsschot Will-o’-the-Wisp in Three Novels, translated from the Dutch by A Brotherton (Leyden, Netherlands: A. W. Sijthoff/ London: Heinemann / New York: London House & Maxwell, 1965)
The Flemish writer Willem Elsschot’s last fiction, Het Dwaalicht (translated into English as Will-o’-the-Wisp) is perhaps his best, if shortest, work. The story is so simple that it feels a bit more like a cartoon image than a narrative “plot.” Three “blackies,” as a grocery-store owner characterizes the three major characters, suddenly appear at her door, and when the customer—Elsschot’s Chaplinesque hero, Laarmans, who appears in several of his fictions—exits the store, they approach him for help with directions, thrusting what becomes an almost sacred piece of cardboard into his hand. The card contains the name Maria Van Dam and an address, Kloosterstraat 15.
Antwerp, June 2, 2010