Dutch to share their dark masterpiece, 70 years on

First English version of novel compared to Albert Camus

It is a novel lauded in the Netherlands as a modern classic, while its author is a literary titan. But British readers are unlikely to have heard of The Evenings or Gerard Reve.

Nearly 70 years after the novel’s publication and 10 years after Reve’s death, it has finally been translated into English. Set in Holland just after the second world war, it is a powerful story of an alienated young office worker who is cynical about his loving, middle-class parents and friends.

The novel went on to find such appreciation that it has never been out of print and was ranked by the Society of Dutch Literature as the country’s best novel of all time.

Daniel Seton, a commissioning editor at Pushkin Press, which is publishing it in the UK on 3 November, said: “It’s taught in schools over there. It’s a kind of cultural touchstone … It’s highly acclaimed critically and very popular – quite a rare combination.”

The Pushkin edition’s jacket bears a comment from Herman Koch, the Dutch bestselling author of The Dinner, who draws parallels between The Evenings and classics by the Americans Jack Kerouac and JD Salinger: “If The Evenings had appeared in English in the 1950s, it would have become every bit as much a classic as On the Road and The Catcher in the Rye.”

Victor Schiferli edited Reve’s books when he worked at the Dutch publisher De Bezige Bij. He said of The Evenings: “Maybe you can compare it to The Catcher in the Rye in terms of familiarity among readers. It’s [about] an adolescent contemplating how to live so, especially for late teenagers, it’s a book that they will read and always remember. Also when you’re older, it’s a very beautiful book to read.

“There’s a cafe in Amsterdam called the Evenings. [The novel] is something we all know. The specific humour we refer to as ‘evenings humour’. It’s a very sardonic humour the main character has, a mean way of describing his friends and his family.”

Seton was astonished to discover that the book had not been translated into English. He likens introducing it to British readers to bringing them a new novel by a writer such as Albert Camus.

He said: “It’s brilliantly written… strange, funny and sinister, with an unexpectedly beautiful ending… It has a very original use of language, a really innovative mixing of registers… sometimes very emotionally powerful, often very funny.”

When The Evenings was published, in 1947, the nihilism of its protagonist sparked a furore in the Netherlands, prompting Reve to defend himself: “I wrote The Evenings because I was convinced I had to write it. That seems to me a good enough reason. I hoped that 10 of my friends would accept a free copy and that 20 people would buy the book out of pity and 10 others by mistake. Things turned out differently. It’s not my fault it caused such an uproar.”

Reve himself was a controversial character. Born into a communist family in 1923, he rejected his parents’ ideology, becoming a devout, if unorthodox, Catholic – openly homosexual, and combining eroticism and religion in his writings. In 1966, he was prosecuted for blasphemy, after he published writings in which the narrator has sex with God, incarnated as a donkey.

The Evenings (Pushkin Press, £14.99. Click here to order a copy for £12.29


Dalya Alberge

The GuardianTramp

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