The Discomfort of Evening
What have I just read? I am so disturbed.
Translated from Dutch, The Discomfort of Evening is about a family living in a farming village in the Dutch countryside who suffer a sudden and unexpected bereavement. Our narrator is 10-year-old Jas, the daughter of a strict religious family who own a dairy farm. Following the death of her brother, we track the family as they battle through their journey of grief and inability to confront their loss.
This book won the International Booker Prize in 2020 which is the main reason I picked it up, however I was not expecting it to be as wild as it is. Big trigger warnings on the following: incest, rape, bestiality, animal abuse and suicide. This book is definitely not for those easily disgusted - even me, who rarely has an emotional reaction from a book, at times felt too icky to carry on reading. From my understanding, this was intentional. There is a quote in the novel that reads, “Discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real” and definitely at no point during my reading experience did I ever feel comfortable.
Rijneveld does a really great job at getting into the head of a child narrator, namely through Jas’ feelings of abandonment due to her strained relationship with her parents and her resulting experiences of anxiety which she cannot quite yet fully comprehend. I also thought the messaging of the book was clearly communicated - this was helped by the crisp writing style and tender characterisation of the child protagonists.
The Discomfort of Evening is a weird book to review. Enjoyment is not a word I would use to describe my reading experience of this book and honestly I do have to question whether all of the gratuitous violence was entirely necessary, but I can see why it won the International Booker. It’s got that experimental, boundary-pushing edge that literary fiction prizes absolutely love. Considering everything I’ve already said in this review, I think I would still recommend this book, but only to the bravest of my friends.