One of the joys of fiction is its ability to transcend physical boundaries. Today I’m thrilled to be part of the build up to the Dutch #Boekenweek in the UK by featuring Craving by Dutch writer Esther Gerritsen. Not only do I have a wonderful extract to share, but there’s also a link to Esther talking about Craving at the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Published by World Editions and translated by Michele Hutchinson, Craving is available for purchase here.
The relationship between Coco and her mother is uneasy to say the least. When they run into each other by chance, Elisabeth casually tells Coco that she is terminally ill. As Coco moves in with her mother and takes care of her, aspects of their troubled relationship come to the fore once again. Elizabeth tries her best to conform to the image of a caring mother, but struggles to deal with Coco’s erratic behaviour and unpredictable moods.
You can watch a fabulous clip of Esther talking about the theme of mothers and daughters in Craving at the Edinburgh Book Festival by clicking here.
An extract from Craving
For the first time in her life, Elisabeth unexpectedly runs into her daughter. She comes out of the chemist’s on the Overtoom, is about to cross over to the tram stop when she sees her daughter cycling along the other side of the street. Her daughter sees her too. Elisabeth stops walking. Her daughter stops pedalling, but doesn’t yet brake. The entire expanse of the Overtoom separates them: two bike paths, two lanes of traffic, and a double tramline. Elisabeth realises at once that she has to tell her daughter that she is dying, and smiles like a person about to tell a joke.
She often finds making conversation with her daughter difficult, but now she really does have something to say to her. A split second later it occurs to her that you mustn’t convey news like that with too much enthusiasm and perhaps not here, either. In the meantime, she crosses the Overtoom and thinks about her doctor, how he keeps asking her: ‘Are you telling people?’ and how nice it would be to be able to give the right answer at her next appointment. She crosses between two cars. Her daughter brakes and gets off her bike. Elisabeth clutches the plastic bag from the chemist’s containing morphine plasters and cough mixture. The bag is proof of her illness, as though her words alone wouldn’t be enough. The bag is also her excuse, because she hadn’t really wanted to say it, here, so inappropriately on the street, but the bag has given her away. Hasn’t it? Yes? And now, so abruptly, Elisabeth is crossing the Overtoom, slips behind a tram, because it isn’t right, her child on one side of the street and she on the other. It isn’t right to run into your daughter unexpectedly.
The daughter used to be there all the time, and later, when she wasn’t, Elisabeth would be the one who had dropped her off. Later still there were visiting arrangements and in recent years not much at all. In any case, the birthdays remained. Things had always been clear-cut and she’d got used to not thinking about the daughter when the daughter wasn’t there. She existed at prearranged times. But now there she was on her bike, while they hadn’t planned to meet and it was wrong and had to be resolved, transformed, assimilated, she still has a tramline to cross, just behind a taxi that toots its horn and causes her coat to whip up. Her daughter pulls her bike up onto the pavement. The final lane is empty.
Elisabeth notices at once that her daughter has gained even more weight and blurts out, ‘Have you had your hair cut again?’ because she’s terrified her daughter can read that last thought about her weight. Elisabeth likes to talk about their hair. They have the same hairdresser.
‘No,’ her daughter says.
‘Different colour then?’
‘But you still go to the same hairdresser’s?’
‘Me too,’ Elisabeth says.
Her daughter nods. It begins to drizzle.
‘Where are you going?’ is too nosy, so this: ‘I thought you lived on the other side of town.’
‘I have to move out soon, the landlord’s given me notice.’
‘Oh,’ Elisabeth says, ‘I didn’t know.’
‘How could you have known?’
‘I… I don’t know.’
‘I only just found out myself.’
‘No, then I couldn’t have known.’ The rain becomes heavier.
‘We’re getting wet,’ Elisabeth says.
Her daughter immediately goes to get back on her bike and says, ‘We’ll call, OK?’
‘My little monster,’ Elisabeth says. Her father had always called her that. He still did. It sounded funny when he said it. Her daughter gapes at her. Then her lips move. Go away, she says, silently. Elisabeth isn’t supposed to hear and she respects that; her stomach hurts, but she hasn’t heard it. Her daughter’s short hair lies flat and wet against her skull. Elisabeth thinks of towels, she wants to dry her daughter, but her daughter turns away from her, one foot already on the pedal.
So Elisabeth is forced to say, ‘I’ve got some news.’ Done it. Her daughter turns back to her.
‘What is it?’
‘Sorry,’ she says, ‘I’m going about this the wrong way, it’s nothing nice.’
‘What is it?’
‘But I don’t want you to take it badly.’ She slowly lifts up the plastic bag from the chemist’s. She holds the bag aloft using both hands, its logo clearly visible.
‘You might be wondering: why isn’t she at work?’
Her daughter ignores the bag.
‘I’ve just been to the chemist’s.’
‘It’s the doctor. He said it.’ She lets the bag drop.
‘What did the doctor say?’
‘That I need to tell people.’
‘That I might die. But we don’t know when, you know. It might be months.’
‘It’s an umbrella term for a lot of different illnesses actually. It just sounds so horrible.’
‘What have you got then?’
‘Oh, it’s all a bit technical.’
‘It started in my kidneys but…’
‘Must have been years ago.’
‘No. How long have you known?’
Elisabeth thinks of the hairdresser, the first person she told. She goes every other month and her new appointment is for next week, in which case it has to be more than…
‘How long, Mum?’
‘We’ll get drenched if we keep on standing here like this.’
‘I’m working it out.’
‘Well, not months.’
‘Christ.’ Her daughter looks angry.
‘I shouldn’t have told you, should I?’
‘But… are they treating you?’
‘Not at the moment, no.’
‘Are they going to treat you?’
‘If they can think of something.’
‘And can they?’
‘Not at the moment.’
‘… and so?’
‘Sorry,’ Elisabeth says, ‘I shouldn’t have told you like this. We’re getting soaked.’ The bag is now hidden behind her back.
‘So you… might… but not definitely?’
‘You’re not likely to live a long time with something like this.’
‘We’ll call each other. Let’s call. Yes? We’ll call?’
About Esther Gerritsen
Esther Gerritsen (1972) is a Dutch novelist, columnist, and playwright. She made her literary début in 2000. She is one of the most established, widely read, and highly praised authors in the Netherlands, and makes regular appearances on radio and at literary festivals. Esther Gerritsen had the honor of writing the Dutch Book Week gift in 2016, which had a print-run of 700,000 copies. In 2014 she was awarded the Frans Kellendonk Prize for her oeuvre.
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