cover image The Great Longing

The Great Longing

Marcel Moring. HarperCollins Publishers, $20 (211pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017243-5

Dutch novelist Moring's first novel to appear stateside, a lyrical, mildly existential tale of memory lost and refound, is set in an urban desert of stylized alienation. Sam van Djik, 30, has lost possession of his past and, accompanied by his twin sister and an eccentric older brother, sets out to find and regroup the scattered pieces. The origin of Sam's amnesia is the car accident that killed his parents in his early youth; as his slightly deranged and hypersensitive mind moves restlessly backward through time, it alights again and again upon images of his childhood, in particular those of his dead father and mother. Sam's trauma leads him into inconsequentiality in adulthood as he drifts aimlessly into the lackluster profession of archivist, living in an abandoned warehouse and trawling through a hip but curiously innocuous underworld. Moring's writing can be supple and momentarily intriguing, but it lacks the intensity or originality to give the meandering, whimsical plot depth-or even surface excitement. Sam seems too casual and even-tempered to have been truly traumatized, and so his memory loss seems more like a literary device than a gripping pathology. The narrative's cute urban-wasteland setting comes off as overdesigned, as well. If he fails to forge a novel of dynamic unpredictability, however, Moring does show that he is capable of more interesting work down the line. (June)