Microreview: The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

There’s certainly one thing Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin did. It had me pondering how, among other things, age impacts my reading tastes.

About halfway through a noted author’s new novel set in South Dakota and its history, I gave up. I picked up a postapocalyptic novel, one of my favorite SF subgenres. I put it down a couple pages in and can’t really tell you why. I picked up The Twin, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer, and finished it in less than 24 hours. Granted, the book is less than 350 smaller-sized pages but I was engrossed. I easily understood why it was a finalist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award.

A bare-bones rendition of the plot: Twins Henk and Helmer are the only children in a Dutch farm family. They feel as if they are one until their late teens, when Henk finds a girlfriend and they suddenly grow apart. Henk dies in car accident a number of months later. Helmer is forced to give up college and spends the rest of his life working on the farm. Now in his mid-fifties and still a bachelor, Helmer is bitter about how his life turned out. He has a touch of hatred for his invalid father, who he has moved to a cold upstairs bedroom and hopes will die soon. Meanwhile, Henk’s girlfriend shows up after decades and asks Helmer to take in her teenage son, who happens to be named Henk.

No fast-paced action. No breathtaking conflicts. No dramatic denouement. Some might claim very little happens. But something is happening — life. The Twin‘s unhurried examination of Helmer still trying to cope with irrevocable changes in his life becomes a rumination on the paths our lives take, particularly when affected by events outside our control. And that raises the question. Would I have enjoyed this theme 10 years ago or is it powerful because of the perceptions or perspective of middle age?

Ultimately, the answer is probably irrelevant. Instead, it’s the 24 hours of enjoyment and resulting contemplation that’s important.

Sometimes I don’t understand how I could have grown so old. If I look into the mirror, I still see the eighteen- or nineteen-year-old behind my weather-beaten mug.

Gerbrand Bakker, The Twin

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