About two thirds of the way through Lucas Rijneveld’s second novel, the narrator reflects on the difficulty of following up a successful debut, with reference to Avril Lavigne’s second album, Under My Skin: ‘You had it on your Discman, though nothing was as good as her debut, Let Go, you thought it must be stifling for all those musicians who began with an enormous hit that nothing else could compete with, they’d squandered their talent right at the start’.
Rijneveld may worry about running a similar risk. His debut novel, The Discomfort of Evening, was an enormous hit. A bestseller in his native Netherlands, its English translation – the work, as this is, of Michele Hutchison – won the International Booker Prize in 2020.
Set on a Dutch dairy farm, The Discomfort of Evening explored the effects of grief and a strict religious upbringing on ten-year-old Jas and her siblings. What was notable was the peculiar balance Rijneveld struck between frank descriptions of the occasional savageries of rural life and the poetry of his language. The occasional savageries in that case included incest, abuse and bestiality. A great deal was made of the parallels with Rijneveld’s own upbringing on a dairy farm. His observant Dutch Reformed family were, he admitted in an interview, ‘too frightened’ to read the book.
They should consider giving My Heavenly Favourite a miss as well. It is another novel centred on a claustrophobic rural community with persistent echoes of the author’s own life. The narrator is a 49-year-old vet who, over the summer of 2005, becomes infatuated with the fourteen-year-old daughter of a religious