Confessions of a Dutch Reading Club
By Patricia van Stratum
Matador – £8.50
I didn’t just want to review this book because I’m half Dutch – although I dare say it may have had some bearing on the matter – but I was initially drawn to it, because I’ve always been mighty interested in the social inter-action(s) between people. And if Confessions of a Dutch Reading Club is a book that does anything, it sheds a most profound light on this very issue.
Herein, authoress Patricia van Stratum investigates the relatively confined, small-town inter-relations between a group of people, that is so telling, so informed yet so observantly worldly, I’m surprised it has become something of a best-seller. Admittedly, it’s not riddled with tits and explosions, oral sex and glamour, but it is laced with a delicate thread of such high-octane social instinct, it’s a crime it hasn’t done a whole better: ‘’We live our lives forwards but only understand them backwards.’’
As for the actual writing itself, this too shines through with a certain penmanship, that is so sorely lacking amid much of today’s obvious and quite often, drab fiction. In Chapter Ten for instance – wherein each member of the reading club has been asked to submit a piece of writing to be published in a book commemorating their ten years together – there’s a piece entitled ‘Cycle Ride into Town,’ wherein Stratum writes:
‘’Many of the birds are holding out their wings as if they are nailed to miniature crosses and looking like an unfortunate band of black-robed martyrs. I wonder about the function of this position. Is it restful? Surely their wings must ache after a while. Is to cool off their bodies after flight or to ventilate their feathers? Or what? Ignoring the need for evolutionary logic, the answer is obvious. The cormorants’ position is designed to be a constant reminder of The Crucifixion – they are living black crucifixes!
One of my favourite birds is the heron. There’s one standing motionless, guarding his strip of water. Canada geese are fun, plump-bellied like a gaggle of corpulent cardinals they waddle and graze between the meadow plants.’’
The above writing may be graceful in both tone and texture, but it is more than substantial in colourful, visionary imagination.
Such is the case throughout many parts of the book, some of which have an overtly comedic undercurrent: ‘’When my mother was not looking, I would take the brush used for cleaning our outside lavatory, rinse it in rainwater and then pretend I was conducting a funeral by sprinkling a make-believe coffin and the imaginary congregation with my ‘holy water.’ My sister usually refused to join in this part of the ceremony, claiming that my holy brush stunk and that she would catch some awful disease if any of the water landed on her […] The village brass band played some triumphal marches, the mayor gave a welcoming speech, while the parrot squawked a Gregorian chant.’’
That Stratum writes from the premise of a number of different characters, is also a note worth mentioning, which just leaves me to say: I cannot recommend this wonderful book more highly.