Book - Breakwater

Published next month by World Editions, Tony Cross read Breakwater by Marijke Schermer, translated by Liz Waters...

[Editor's note - Trigger warning for mentions of sexual assault]

This is a short Dutch novel about secrets, betrayal and how sexual assault impacts on a woman’s life. Emilia, a statistician who runs her own business with university friends and Bruch, a Doctor are married. They have two young children. They’ve moved to a small village, where there house sits on the wrong side of a dyke. This is one of those books that people – PR people perhaps – will foolishly tag with a line like, ‘Emilia seems to have everything.’ Because we know from almost the beginning that she doesn’t.

Emilia had just started seeing Bruch when she was savagely beaten and raped by a stranger. She stopped calling Bruch for three months as she dealt with the physical and mental consequences of her rape. Eventually they meet up again. Then they marry. Throughout this Emilia chooses not to tell Bruch what happened to her.

The story is told from Emilia’s point of view and we get to see how she deals with their struggling marriage. Emilia constantly questions her decision not to tell Bruch. Time has gone by and the more time that has past the harder it seems for her to tell him. They are close to divorce.

Towards the end of the book a huge rain storm is causing rising water levels and threatening to flood their home in what seems like an obvious metaphor for the state of their marriage. This is my only criticism of the book. That metaphor is perhaps a bit too on the nose. Especially as it is Bruch who seems determined to stay in the house as the water levels rise.

Throughout the book things happen that trigger Emilia’s PTSD. Men semi-regularly present her with reminders of their failure to understand boundaries.

It is a difficult book to read at points and as a man I’m not sure how much I can understand what Emilia is going through, but it feels ‘true’ to me. I’d be interested to read other people’s opinions on it. However towards the end of the book I felt I understood Emilia’s reaction to something Bruch tells her precisely. I was genuinely raging on Emilia’s behalf.

You do wonder if things would have been different if Emilia had told Bruch at the beginning what had happened, but you understand her reasons for not doing so.

Schermer’s prose, translated by Liz Waters, comes without literary fripperies. It is direct. Indeed, it reminded me of the Dutch people I have known and worked with over the years. That directness is ironic considering the central role that not being direct plays in the book.

Worth reading, but the content will make it a difficult read for some.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

World Editions publishes Breakwater by Marijke Schermer, translated by Liz Waters of 4th April

Powered by Blogger.