The Twin

Gerbrand Bakker

translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Archipelago Books 2010
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
Helmer is finally reorganising the farmhouse, moving his ageing and non-ambulatory father upstairs, changing the curtains, buying himself a new bed, and so forth. When his identical twin Henk died thirty-seven years ago, Helmer abandoned his university studies to work on the farm — and he has done so ever since, without a holiday, milking the cows and pasturing the sheep. His only indulgence has been the purchase of two donkeys as pets, his only dreams of Denmark.

Helmer's social world is limited: apart from his father, there are the tanker drivers who collect the milk every day, the livestock dealer he sells to, and the inquisitive woman on the farm next door and her two children. So it is quite a change when his brother's one-time fiancée visits and then sends her son, in his late teens, to live with him. And then a farmhand who befriended Helmer forty years ago also reappears.

The Twin contrasts youth and old age, life and death, stability and change, memory and experience. It has some overtly symbolic elements — most obviously a hooded crow that keeps appearing — and some coincidences, with first Riet and then Jaap appearing just as Helmer's life reaches critical points. But none of this is forced or unnatural.

The simple, spare prose of its first-person narration matches Helmer's quiet and unassuming personality; both have hidden depths. The other characters are nicely sketched and the dialogue seems perfectly pitched. There's also a strong sense of time and place in the seasonal and daily rhythms of a little farm next to a canal leading into the IJsselmeer.

The Twin is a powerful but understated novel, a gentle but moving study of a life.

October 2010

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%T The Twin
%A Bakker, Gerbrand
%M Dutch
%F Colmer, David
%I Archipelago Books
%D 2010
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781935744047
%P 283pp