The Following Story is for me one of those chance encounters. I came across it whilst browsing in the bookshop looking to spend a book token I got for Christmas and something attracted me to it. I’m not sure what it was, but this is a beautifully written novella which is distinctly European. Its language has the feel of European modernist writing and that is not just the fact that there are strong echoes here of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The language has a poetic quality and a kind of formality that reminds me of some of the writing from that same period. This slightly old-fashioned feel to some of the writing, juxtaposed with occasional moments of contemporary idiom (in the form of direct speech) is one of the books striking features.
The novella tells the story of Herman Musert, a former classics teacher, who goes to bed in Amsterdam but wakes up in Portugal in the same hotel room where twenty years previously there took place what turned out to be a life-changing event. It has a dream-like quality, yet this is reality and when he goes to sleep he dreams of being back in Amsterdam, only to wake up again in Portugal. It is only when he finds himself boarding a boat with a cast of unlikely co-travellers, that he begins to realise the significance of what has happened.
This is a deeply lyrical and philosophical book, highly literary in its references (for which your old school lessons in classical mythology come in quite handy), but completely engaging. It won its author, Cees Nooteboom, the European Literature Prize in 1993 and deservedly so. As a reflection on life, death, dream, reality and passion, it is a book that deserves reading and returning to.