This is a starkly beautiful book, written like nothing I've read before. Set in the Waterland of northern Holland, the prose is as spare and gaunt as the empty landscape of wintry fields and frozen water in which it is set. It has an impressive sense of place; Bakker has that rare ability to transport the reader to a foreign landscape so that, by the end of the book, every field, tree and dyke seems intimate to us.
The plot concerns Helmer, a single farmer in his fifties. Helmer never chose to be a farmer; it only fell to him after his twin brother, Henk, died some three decades before. And now that Helmer's elderly father is dying, Helmer is aware that his life is on the cusp of change. The possibility of change is brought sharply into focus when Henk's former fiancé turns up, and seemingly offers an alternative future.
The novel is narrated in the first person, and the spartan prose reflects the constrained existence of Helmer's llife. What is marvellous about Bakker's writing is the way in which mundane details of Helmer's day are placed, without comment, against the unfolding plot. This creates a deadpan humour that contrasts with the bleakness of his life.
The novel is sad, but beautiful; unromanticised, but profound, a book full of longing and loneliness, of the unsaid and undone. It is fabulous.