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The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker

The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker

The 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Award winning book was The Twin by Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker. This novel tells the mesmerizing and beautiful story of Helmer, a man caring for his dying father and the farm where they live together. The story is slowly, gently revealed as we come to know a man who finds he has a second chance at life. The Twin so perfectly captures the landscape of Holland – especially the farmland near Monnickendam, Marken and Volendam, a short distance from Amsterdam. The land is flat, riddled with canals; sheep and cows graze outside these villages where dikes hold back the sea.

I read that Gerbrand Bakker is a gardener by trade, and works as a skating teacher in the winters. I can picture him in the landscape about which he writes and captures so perfectly. Not only is it described with his words – each one so obviously selected with great thought – but also in the pace of the words, the sentences, the paragraphs. He is quoted as saying, “in the autumn when I rake the dead leaves I can do it for hours – once I even disturbed a pile I'd made so I could go on raking. The sound is so wonderful: it lets you think in a subconscious way, in the back of your mind.”

His new novel The Detour is as good as – better perhaps – than the first. The Detour takes us from Holland to Wales. A Dutch woman has rented a farmhouse in Wales – we know she has left her husband and her home but it is only as the story unwinds that we discover why. Each chapter reveals just a little more about the woman, her new neighbours, her marriage and why she has chosen to be where she is. The novel is so beautifully paced, we are led just a little closer, and a little farther, into her world. She is a woman alone, with a complicated relationship with the poet Emily Dickinson.

There are books and there are books - this is a novel that satisfies in every way – you will enjoy the simple pleasure of reading the words – you will think about life, love and loneliness – and you will remember this book long after you have finished reading.

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