Cees Nooteboom is one of several well-known international writers whose work was made available in English through Christopher MacLehose’s Harvill Press. Nooteboom’s readership in the UK, unlike that of Murakami and Henning Mankell, was insufficient to tempt Random House, Harvill’s purchaser, to continue publishing him. It is cheering to see the phoenix MacLehose turn some of the proceeds from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which he published in this country, towards Nooteboom again. This book will never augment the bestseller charts, but its low-key form bears greater truths than any number of noisily marketed ‘masterpieces’.
Although set in a variety of places round Europe – Venice, the Ligurian coast, Spain, Holland – the eight stories in this collection have common elements that make them a unity. The most powerful ones are ‘Gondolas’, ‘Heinz’, ‘Paula’ and ‘Paula II’, all of which use photographs as a spur to remembrance, and concern loves and events from decades ago. The first three of these are written from the point of view of a Dutch writer as he approaches old age; the fourth is narrated by Paula’s disembodied voice, long after she has died in a hotel fire. It is an improbable conceit, but it