CHEESE

Willem Elsschot, Author, Paul Vincent, Translator
Willem Elsschot, Author, Paul Vincent, Translator , trans. from the Dutch by Paul Vincent. Granta $14.95 (160p) ISBN 1-86207-481-X
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Originally published in 1933, this classic Dutch comedy tells the tale of a determined but misguided marine shipping clerk enmeshed in a cumbersome cheese-centered farce. In early 1930s Amsterdam, a friend of a friend offers 50-year-old Frans Laarmans a position as an Edam cheese distributor. Laarmans isn't fond of cheese—upon visiting a cheese shop, he observes, "The Roqueforts and Gorgonzolas lewdly flaunted their mould, and a squadron of Camemberts let their pus ooze out freely"—but he is willing to snatch at any opportunity to escape his drab job at the shipping yards and enhance his social standing. Despite help from his wife, who is a bit sharper than her husband in business matters, Laarmans finds his new occupation exhausting. Before selling his first Edam, he wastes days searching for a typewriter to write up receipts for unmade sales and hours searching shops for a desk. In the meantime, 10,000 wheels of Edam are delivered. When he is informed that his supervisor is en route to meet him and settle accounts, Laarmans frantically struggles to make a sale. Doomed from the start, his final weak efforts are to no avail, and even his one success is ill timed. The book's poker-faced humor falls a bit flat in translation, though Laarmans's ordeal makes for nail-biting reading, and Elsschot's class commentary is astute. (Apr.)

Forecast:The small trim size, bright jacket and low price point may make this an appealing gift buy, though Elsschot's particular brand of dry humor won't be to everyone's taste.

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