notes on dutch literature

Tomorrow Pamplona

In Review on January 21, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Tomorrow Pamplona-Jan van Mersbergen
“Good – and sometimes even great – literature comes in all shapes and sizes and in the case of Peirene’s classy novellas, small is usually beautiful. In Tomorrow Pamplona, a haunting and sometimes violent exploration of the masculine psyche, the power of the story lies not so much in its noir-style beauty as in its terse, testosterone-generated energy.[…].” Pam Norfolk, Iomtoday

Peirene Press published Tomorrow Pamplona, a short novel by Jan van Mersbergen in 2011 (first published in Dutch in 2007), translated by Laura Watkinson. A professional boxer and a family man meet by chance on a journey to the Pamplona Bull Run. The boxer is fleeing an unhappy love. The father hopes to escape his dull routine. Both know that, eventually, they will have to return to the place each calls ‘home’. A story about anger, aggression and the desire for intimacy.

Van Mersbergen’s spare, subtle, almost poetic style is a perfect match for a dual narrative journey which slowly reveals the secrets of a young boxer fleeing his lover’s betrayal, and a middle-aged husband and father seeking a dangerous reprieve from his dull, domestic routine. Violence, both professional and domestic, forms the backdrop to boxer Danny’s life. When he hitches a lift from insurance worker Robert, we know only that he is fleeing a brutal act of aggression and an unhappy relationship.

Tomorrow Pamplona deliberately echoes Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Van Mersbergen explores similar themes of alienation, and his spare prose succinctly expresses the angst of his two male protagonists – caused for Robert by the banality of his life, and for Danny by a lost love. Both men are wounded – either physically or emotionally. Once in Pamplona, you know that their stories will become irretrievably entwined, when a stranger remarks that Danny has the same look in his eye as the bulls. As he tracks back and forth between the dual narratives, moving inexorably to the double climax, van Mersbergen skilfully builds emotional intensity until the point when the boxer and bulls’ fury are finally unleashed.” Lucy Popescu, The Independent

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