cover image LOVE'S DEATH


Oscar van den Boogaard, Oscar Van Den Boogaard, , trans. from the Dutch by Ina Rilke. . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $22 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-374-18585-5

A tortured marriage between two icily restrained people is detailed by van den Boogaard in a tightly woven narrative of marital angst. The novel, van den Boogaard's fifth and the first to be translated into English, opens in August 1973 in an unnamed town in Holland, with the drowning of eight-year-old Vera Klein in a neighbor's pool. Strangely, neither of Vera's parents ever question or criticize pool owner Inez or express their anguish in a visible manner, and their constrained behavior initially creates an undercurrent of suspense. Paul Klein adores his wife, Oda, who thinks that he has "an exasperating way of keeping his distance." Oda herself is a cold fish, and the revelation that on the day that Vera drowned she had planned to leave with her lover, Paul's oldest friend, is less than convincing. Unable to cope with Vera's death, Paul, a lieutenant colonel in the Dutch army, accepts an assignment in Indonesia. On his return home to a resigned Oda, seven years after Vera's death, Inez again plays a crucial role in their lives. After a fire at Inez's home, they give shelter to her houseguest, Daisy, a 15-year-old American girl whom they both see as a surrogate daughter, and they temporarily emerge from their respective shells to try to convince her to remain with them. The author's deliberately constrained prose—like a series of still, grainy photos in which each detail is magnified—describes the characters' inner misery, but leaves the reader completely detached. The final revelation, from Oda's lover, is an anticlimax. He asks, "which was worse: the death of a child or the death of love." But the central question in reading about these unlikable people turns out to be, why should we care? (June)