The Discomfort of Evening

by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Other authorsMichelle Hutchison (Translator)
Paperback, 2020




Graywolf (2020), 224 pages


"I asked God if he please couldn't take my brother Matthies instead of my rabbit. 'Amen.' Ten-year-old Jas has a unique way of experiencing her universe: the feeling of udder ointment on her skin as protection against harsh winters; the texture of green warts, like capers, on migrating toads; the sound of 'blush words' that aren't in the Bible. But when a tragic accident ruptures the family, her curiosity warps into a vortex of increasingly disturbing fantasies - unlocking a darkness that threatens to derail them all"

Media reviews

Rijneveld gunt haar personages en ons lezers uiteindelijk niets dan kilte: ze voerde ons een wreed en sadistisch universum binnen, waarin we al vermoedden dat alles bergafwaarts zou gaan, en dat gaat het. Dat wordt voorspelbaar – Rijneveld is niet de eerste jonge debutant van de afgelopen tijd
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die over wreedheid schrijft – en het wordt er niet bepaald geloofwaardiger op. Tegenover die kilte staat niet, zoals in Spits Het smelt, een geloofwaardige verteller, een spannende plot of het geringste sprankje van het o zo menselijke streven naar geluk. Het enige wat dit boek lijkt te willen, is ons laten lijden.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
A detailed and very painful description of a family falling apart in the process of grieving for a child killed in a skating accident. Narrator Jas and her surviving siblings are essentially left to fend for themselves, with their parents so overcome by their reaction to the tragedy that they
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aren't really able to spare any emotional energy for being parents any more. But the process of growing up doesn't have a Pause button, and the kids, whilst sharing their parents' grief for their lost brother, still have all the puzzling, exciting, frightening and unstoppable experience of puberty to deal with. The result is a sort of cross between the book of Job and Lord of the flies, with Rijneveld piling on the disasters whilst expertly manipulating both the comically naive and the devastatingly clear-sighted parts of a child's view of the world to leave us with maximum discomfort. Not an enjoyable read, but a clever and powerful piece of writing.
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LibraryThing member evano
I don't know how to rate this.

Goodreads suggests one star for "did not like it", two stars for "it was ok", three stars for "liked it", four stars for "really liked it", and five stars for "it was amazing".

How can you like something as dark and disturbing and painful and claustrophobic as this
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story? How can you like a story told by a 10-year old girl that is filled with sexual thoughts and acts and bizarre semi-sexual rituals? How can you like a book where humans are treated like farm animals and farm animals are treated like avatars of sexuality -- at the same time they are treated as objects of torture or mindless killing? How can you like a book filled with shit and piss and semen and blood? How can you like a book filled with unrelenting grief, madness, rape, deaths of children, abusive religion, pedophiles, and suicides?

I didn't like it. But I didn't not like it in a one-star kind of way. It was amazing, but not in a five-star kind of way. It was a brilliant book, but I don't know anyone I would recommend it to. It was singular work, and I never want to read anything like it again.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld's novel, THE DISCOMFORT OF EVENING, translated from the Dutch, caught my attention when I saw it short-listed for the Booker Prize. It is a very affecting coming of age story set in a small farming community in the Netherlands, narrated by a twelve year-old girl named Jas,
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whose devout Reform family is slowly coming apart following the accidental death of the older of two sons. Her father is devastated, her mother becomes emotionally distant and nearly stops eating. Jas's other older brother, Obbe, shows signs of sadism, torturing and killing small animals, and experimenting sexually with Jas and her precocious younger sister, Hannah. And Jas is feeling her own confused stirrings of budding sexuality. And then their dairy herd is stricken with hoof and mouth disease and must be destroyed (the description of which brought back a similar wrenching scene from HUD, the film adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Texas novel, HORSEMAN, PASS BY). I will tell you that the writing here is quite beautiful (although translated works always make me wonder who to praise), but the subject matter is almost unrelievedly grim, with an ending that is unexpected and shocking. This should probably earn a five-star rating, but I winced my way through so much of it that I cannot honestly say I enjoyed it. Even so, very highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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LibraryThing member kjuliff
In the Mind of a Child

It’s as if Rijneveld had to get it all out there before they forgot. The Discomfort of Evening draws upon many of Rijneveld‘s own experiences growing up on a bleak farm in the Netherlands around the turn of the century.

Jas is ten and her family is falling apart. The tight
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external structure of extreme religion is not enough to hold it together in the face of two tragic events in as many years. In fact regular visits of Church Elders and the extreme beliefs of the Dutch Reformed Church are stifling influences on the family. The parents distance themselves from each other and from the children. The.children are left in a vacuum. Schooling is intermittent. Jas is forced to fill in the gaps of the “why” of everything in order for her world to make sense.

From the accidental drowning of her older brother, the death of the farm cows who are euthanized due to an out break of foot and mouth disease, to witnessing the animal cruelty of her surviving brother, Jas has a mind full of explanations.

Told by her teacher to write a letter to Anne Frank, she’s confused. How can Anne read a letter? She finds out her birthday is the same date as Hitler’s (as is Rijneveld‘s) and fears she herself must be bad. She tells a Hitler joke at school, so off that it’s been excluded from the English translation.

At home at night she looks at the glow-in-the-light star stickers and peels one off and sticks it on her coat. She thinks there are Jews hiding in the basement and worries they aren’t getting enough food when her family falls on hard times after the cow disease.

She keeps toads under her desk hoping they will mate as this will mean her parents might and then her drowned brother will be replaced. She masturbates on her teddy bear and watches when her surviving brother does sexual acts with a coke can on her complicit younger sister. She tries to make sense of every little thing. She imagines teeth peeping up through the snow, teeth that have kept growing, the teeth of dead animals buried on the farm. Why would teeth not keep growing? she asks herself. When her drowned brother’s body is kept for days in a cooled coffin, she lifts the clear viewing lid to see if he’s warm. It’s Christmas time when he dies and the parents cancel Christmas. Her mother takes the Christmas decorations down and carries them to the basement where the Jews are living.

The paucity of Jax’s external life contrasts with her mind’s imaginative explanations. This juxtaposition of external and internal increases as the child Jas progresses though puberty where sexual ideation escalates.

The reader starts to enter Jan’s/ Rijneveld’s mind. If any thing even partly normal happens we are jolted out of it by something some horror. We enter a world we don’t want to be in.

Reading The Disturbance of Evening is an unnerving and enduring experience, but one I am honored that I was allowed into.
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LibraryThing member thenumeraltwo
Starts by reflecting the title; sadness wittily told. But morphs into an escape story.

She had eyes that always shone, as if there were battery-powered tea lights behind them that lasted a long time.

But the escape never comes. The pressure keeps building as the family fall apart, but there's no
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release or chance of it. The community outside the family aren't set-up to help either. Once the rot of sadness is allowed in, there's no cure.

Ants can carry up to five thousand times their own weight. Humans are puny in comparison — they can barely lift their own body weight once, let alone the weight of their sorrow.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
There's not too many books that I don't finish but this is one. Although I liked the premise and the setting -- the Netherlands on a dairy farm, I just couldn't get into the story told by a young girl whose brother died in a drowning. Tried it based on a review and that it was a finalist for the
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Booker award.
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LibraryThing member arosoff
I'm still not sure if I liked this. it's written with a kind of aggressive unpleasantness that left me uncomfortable. But I think it was effective.
LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
As the title says, this book causes discomfort at times as a reformed Dutch family deals with trauma. It’s weird and disjointed, but well written and unique. 4/5!
LibraryThing member oldblack
Sad. Horrifying.
LibraryThing member kakadoo202
Dark. Haunting. Sad. Sudden ending that shocked me.
LibraryThing member icolford
The Discomfort of Evening is narrated by 10-year-old Jas Mulder and describes in graphic, sometimes distressing detail the mental, spiritual and moral breakdown of the Mulder family following the death of Jas’s older brother Matthies, who drowns after falling through the ice while skating on a
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lake near their home. The story takes place in rural Holland, where Jas’s father runs the family’s dairy farm. The Mulders are members of the Dutch Reformed Church, an ultra-strict Christian sect that lives by scripture and in constant fear of a vengeful God. In the aftermath of the eldest brother’s death, the remaining children—Jas, teenage brother Obbe and younger sister Hanna—are more or less cut adrift as their parents retreat into all-consuming guilt and grief. Convinced their misfortune is God’s punishment for some infraction, their dogmatic father immerses himself in the rituals of farming, and their mother develops an aversion to certain foods, beginning a slow and agonizing process of wasting away. In the absence of the grounding influence of adult oversight, the children indulge a variety of fantasies and fetishes. Jas’s unhealthy obsessions begin with her winter coat, which she wears at all times, indoors and outdoors. She develops a fixation on bodily orifices and sexual functions (boys’ “willies” in particular), which leads to some disturbing behaviours that Rijneveld describes in detail. As recounted by Jas, Obbe’s behaviour tends toward the psychopathic and includes cruelty toward small animals and some violent sexual experimentation. Later in the book, the family is again visited by misfortune when their herd is infected with foot-and-mouth disease and must be destroyed. In response to these calamities and their parents’ neglect, Jas and Hanna hatch “The Plan,” which is to escape to “the other side” of the lake that claimed the life of their brother. The loose structure of Rijneveld’s prize-winning novel is disorienting and deliberate. Incidents do not lead logically or inevitably from one to the next, but instead seem to accumulate until the gathering pressures force the characters to act. The Discomfort of Evening represents a fierce triumph of the imagination and describes a reality that is twisted and terrifying. It is undeniably engrossing, in the manner of a train wreck. But it also poses a great challenge to the reader by telling a story that not everyone will be comfortable hearing.
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LibraryThing member sriddell
This was a very difficult and demanding book to read. So well written (which is why I gave it 3 stars) but the subject matter is raw and grim and gritty - reflecting the raw and grim and gritty circumstances of the inhabitants of this novel.

The book opens with a young girl, Jas, suspecting that her
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rabbit is about to become Christmas dinner. She prays that God take her brother and spare the rabbit. And in short order, her brother drowns when he breaks through thin ice. Fair warning - this opening is the most cheerful part of the book.

The family descends into depression and repression. The parents try unsuccessfully to explain everything in terms of religion, while openly arguing about which of them should be allowed to join their dead son. The three remaining siblings are left to flounder in grief and an exploration of suicidal ideations. The ending is very abrupt. I was wondering where this story would end and was at first surprised...but then of course how else could it end?

I feel like a trigger warning should be added to this book - serious mental/physical/sexual child abuse, and overt, ugly, pointless animal abuse. I listened to this on audio and found myself just cringing at some of the scenes in this book.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 3* of five (I guess...)


My Review
: Excrement, depression, religious nuttery, what I strongly suspect is a suicide...all still within my tolerance. Then Obbe is disgustingly cruel to his hamster in front of his very young sisters and Jas
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'Right,' Dad says, 'off to your bedroom, you, and pray.'

His shoe hits my bum; the poo stuck up it might have shot back up in my intestines now. When Mum learns the truth about {the hamster} she'll get depressed again and won't speak for days. I glance at {her brother and sister} one last time, then the Lego castle {where the dying hamster is hidden from their father). My brother is suddenly busy with his butterfly collection. He probably just beat them out of the air with his bare hands.
That's page 79. Add in a parent hitting a child with a shoe and I am just not here for it. I don't think others will have my sensitivity to animal cruelty or using an object to strike a child, and the imagery is so well-rendered into English I forgot it was a translation; whatever there is to recommend it, I can not, and do not wish to, go there.
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LibraryThing member RickGeissal
I don't think I could write anything about this novel that would not contain spoilers, so I encourage people to read it because I think it is very well-done and interesting.


Original language

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