Cees Nooteboom is an author I've been aware about for some time without having gotten around to read anything by him, The Following Story/Het volgende Verhaal is almost novella size at ninety five pages, it's narrated by Hermann Mussert, a man who is caught between two identities. Waking one morning in a hotel room in Portugal he has the definite recollection that the previous night he had fallen asleep in bed in Amsterdam. The two alter egos of Mussert are that of Socrates, a former classics teacher at a Dutch school and that of Dr Strabo a famous travel writer, at the same time as beginning to explore these two identities Mussert's narrative redolent with the lucidness of early morning thinking begins to feel that in actual fact he has died. The realization that the room he has awoken in is the same room that he had an affair with a fellow teacher, Maria Zeinstra, who is married to the gym teacher. The tone of the narrative takes on a more ethereal aspect as it progresses, Mussert's observations and thoughts reflect back to the Roman classics, Ovid, Horace and their characters, at the beginning the narrative is floating settling on the space probe Voyager contemplating it 'taking endless photographs'.
Reflecting back on his time as a teacher Mussert recalls a certain pupil Lisa d'India, a beautiful young and talented student, although Mussert's narrative is touched with misanthropy, through his own rueful observations on himself comes a certain empathy for the human predicament. The source of the narrative begins to take on being one from the after life as Mussert finds himself on board a ferry, the circumstances of the deaths of his fellow passengers, Professor Deng, Captain Dekobra, Harris, Father Fermi, are recounted. This short novella was head scratchingly good, an intrinsically reflective combination of the labyrinthine and enigmatic and I'm eager now to track out a copy of Cees Nooteboom's recent collection of short stories translated by Ina Rilke, (who also translated The Following Story), The Foxes Came At Night, published by Maclehose Press.
From The Following Story -
Memory of lust is the most elusive of all, once lust becomes just an idea it becomes it's own contradiction: absent, and hence unthinkable. I know that I suddenly saw myself that evening, a man alone in a cube, surrounded by invisible others in adjacent cubes, and with tens of thousands of pages around me filled with descriptions of the same, but ever distinct, emotions of real or invented personages. I was moved by myself.
The Following Story is published by Vintage