James Ensor, Intrigue
Hugo Claus De Verwondering (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1962), translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim as Wonder (Brooklyn, New York: Archipelago Books, 2009)
Late in 2009 Archipelago publisher Jill Schoolman sent me a copy of their translation Hugo Claus' important fiction, Wonder. It wasn't until March of 2010 that I could get a chance to begin reading it, and I finished it only in early April.
On the second day, they take a more conventional approach and are greeted as if they were expected, even toured about the place. Soon we realize that the castle is preparing for a significant gathering of supporters of an obscure Flanders wartime figure, Crabbe, who, siding with the Nazi's, fought a kind individual war based on nationalist beliefs. De Rijckel and the boy are thought to be a doctor and his son from the Netherlands come for the event, and, accordingly, Alesandra readily entertains them. Yet suspicions are clearly aroused by some of de Rijckel's comments, and a former aide to Crabbe, Sprange, who lives at the castle, looms as a fearful skeptic.
We in our country of two hundred and ten airplanes and two
submarines, we work hard and have a good reputation abroad—ask
anyone—because we are flexible in our transactions and give our
all. On Saturdays we'll go for a spin in our big American cars
(ninety percent of which, my good man, are brought on credit) to
the coast, our coast. We study the rim of West Flanders that lies
on the sea. ...Circumstances, if we are to be believed, are in the
hands of others....
Yet this little man who has so willingly engaged the catastrophes that have befallen him, finally does act; ultimately he rises again to, if nothing else, explore his own imprisonment; and in the process and despite possible punishment, de Rijckel lets out a long righteous scream against the perverted Ensor-like landscape surrounding him:
A gray-haired mother sitting on a terrace opposite the esplanade said to her son, "Did you hear that, darling?" Her son, though fully grown, was wearing shorts. He was in a wheelchair, and saliva dripped from his lips onto his pink, hairy thighs. "No, no, no!" he said, swinging his heavy head. She carefully dabbed his lips.
Los Angeles, April 17, 2010
Copyright ©2010 by Douglas Messerli.