100 Essential Books – Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016)

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I was introduced to Dutch author Tommy Wieringa by newbooks magazine issue 84 and a five star review for “These Are The Names”, later short-listed for Bookhugger Book of The Year.  This was a chilling, thought-provoking novel of a  search for a modern Promised Land.  Fuelled by its success publishers Scribe have embarked upon a series of reissues of his earlier works.  “Joe Speedboat” was his debut from 2009 and is translated as was the last book by Sam Garrett.  On domestic release it became the best selling debut novel in Dutch but didn’t find that much of a worldwide audience.  I think it’s time to change this with this 2016 reprint.  It is one of the best books I have read this year and surpasses, in my opinion, “These Are The Names”.

Teenager Frankie Hermans awakes after a horrific accident to hear his parents talking about a new arrival to their village, a boy called Joe Speedboat with a predilection for making bombs.  His arrival in Lomark was equally explosive- through the wall of a house in a truck in a crash which killed his father.  Joe is adamant no-one knows his real name as he transforms the lives of those around him.  I felt that “These Are The Names” favoured themes over characterisation but here it is the marvellous characters that take central stage, especially the refreshingly energetic Joe, full of schemes to rock a sleepy village and narrator Frankie, left without speech and with limited movement who is soon incorporated into Joe’s big plans.

This book it touching, eccentric, laugh out loud funny and completely unpredictable.  I found myself hanging onto  every word.  It is a marvellous achievement.  It is a coming of age novel with a difference and has immense vitality and like the very best novels it is life-enhancing.  Other novels by Wieringa are being republished in the same format.  If they are as good as this then we have found ourselves an important European writer.

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Joe Speedboat is republished by Scribe in this new edition in 2016.

These Are The Names- Tommy Wieringa (2015)

wieringaThis is the eleventh publication from this Dutch prize winning author (he has now published twelve in his homeland –three are available as English translations).  Set on and around the steppes of Eastern Europe a Police Commissioner Pontus Beg finds himself forming a bond with the only Rabbi left around.  As he embarks on his own personal odyssey a much crueller one is taking place.

In a parallel narrative a group of refugees who have paid to cross the border are dumped on the steppes and left to make their own way to who knows where .  Without the resources to survive the only options are death, madness or dehumanisation to a basic primitive level where superstition becomes linked to survival.  This is a chilling tale with Beg seeking hope in an age-old faith and and the refugees on a fruitless search to their modern Promised Land.  Not all readers respond well to the parallel narrative structure  (I don’t really have a problem with it).  This is something that Wieringa is aware of.  In an interview with Guy Pringle and Lydia Revett for New Books Magazine (NB 84) the author had this to say;

“You might have noticed that every chapter has the same length of more or less 200 words – I did that to give the book a pounding rhythm and to overcome the problem of the parallel narrative : if the reader favours this or that storyline, he doesn’t have to turn the pages impatiently; because of the steady rhythm he knows when to expect his favourite storyline.”

As a result of this the structure works very well.  The depth of the novel is within its themes rather than characterisation.  We are distanced from the diminishing group of refugees just as they are distanced from one another in an environment where support and care for their fellow humans could be deemed as weakness but this certainly does not diminish the horror of their plight.  Wieringa in this translation by Sam Garrett has produced a very readable, thought provoking novel which has already garnered the Dutch Libris and could be expected to appear on a number of “Best Of 2015” lists at the end of this year.

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These Are The Names was published in 2015 in the UK by Scribe