Lucian Robinson

Clocking On

The Evenings


Pushkin Press 320pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

In his story ‘Young Titans’, first published in 1918, the great Dutch writer Nescio (1882–1961) depicts a group of young men who are torn between their dull lives as jobbing clerks and their fading artistic and literary aspirations. ‘No, we didn’t actually do anything,’ the narrator of the story recalls. ‘We did our work at the office, not all that well, for bosses we despised … But we were waiting. For what? We never knew.’ The experience of clerkship lies at the heart of much modernist fiction, not least because so many of its foremost practitioners, from Franz Kafka to Italo Svevo, were clerks themselves. Moreover the absurdity of office life is a particularly pertinent theme in Dutch fiction, perhaps because of the Netherlands’ persistent reputation as an industrious trading nation. In Gerard Reve’s newly translated 1947 novel, The Evenings, the protagonist, Frits van Etgers, describes his job with self-mocking laconicism: ‘I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it.’ The staccato constructions and melancholy aloofness of Reve’s prose betray the influence of Nescio’s exquisitely self-effacing style, but, unlike Nescio’s young clerks, Frits dreads not the numbing routines of the office but the dead space of the evenings and the weekends in Amsterdam.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The 25th Bad Sex in Fiction is happening in a week. There’s a press release if you’re the sort of person who wants a press release ,
    • sorry I can’t spell fluttering. I was agitated.,
    • Probably try and get an announcement out later, for all these male writers who think of fluttering inner muscle sheaths...,
    • He felt the muscles far inside her flutteriung around him,
    • Next week sees return, and we've got discounted tickets on offer, right here: ,
    • We're rarely topical - tricky as a monthly magazine - but we've an article this month all about Laurence Binyon, po… ,
    • "We will remember them" - who wrote those words, and why have them become our terms of memorial? ,