Winner of the International Booker Prize 2020, this book written by the Dutch novelist Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and ingeniously translated by Michele Hutchison, is dark, gory and everything blasphemous.
It’s narrated by the ten year old girl Jas, who experiences the sudden catastrophic death of her brother. She now, has to, not only make peace with it , but also appear normal about it. This is in stark contrast to her entire family wherein every member is unravelling. Her strict christian parents and pubescent siblings, each develop dangerously self destructive behaviours that corrode the very existence of their fragile, deliberate, emotionally unavailable ties. Jas wears a red coat and never takes it off; lets toads live in her coat; develops chronic constipation which consumes most of her thoughts and becomes almost allegorical. Her mother’s attempts at preserving her own depression causes more damage to Jas in the form of delusions. Her patriarchal father is forever focussed on her poo and only commands or recites hymns. Her siblings are exploratory with their bodily growth and hormones. In short, the environment is suffocating, claustrophobic and deeply calamitous.
The author , who goes by the pronouns they/them; puts Death as the protagonist here. The faltering attempts of the family at grappling with Death, makes them emotionally dead. Not all of us can handle death of a loved one. This book is an unflinching, almost repugnant take on it’s varied ramifications on human beings.
The narration is at a languid pace. The events are stark; a lot of them include the “bum-hole”. The book also gets quite defiantly incestuous; which actually made me squirm. The writing can get tedious at places; however I’m sure, it’s not something you must have read before.
So, do I recommend the book? I stand divided in a discomforting silence.
~ JUST A GAY BOY. 😷