There are a few moments that make one shudder, and the extreme heartlessness exhibited towards one of the guests of Villa des Roses, Madame Gendron who is particularly cruelly tormented, although there is some mitigation as she is an inveterate thief. The inhabitants of the Villa are given extensive characterisation, which certainly increases the pleasure of reading. The writing is precise. He does not favour any of the characters with much empathy, but this does not matter at all. At times he is gruesome. As the Introduction notes, “Losers like Louise (a maid) and Marie and the (autobiographically based) affair between Louise and Grünwald, the handsome but heartless German guest is the only treatment of sexual love in Elsschot (not in any way explicit). Nevertheless, we are in no doubt that there was a sexual bond between them.
There are numbered notes in the back of the book for those who need them. My French is nonexistent and so I was not equal to getting through without them, but they do deepen one’s regard for the multilingual complexities. I very much enjoyed this book, except for the “accident” to Chico. It is lively, as well as enlivening, even funny at times. I would certainly read another book by Elsschot. First published in the Netherlands in 1913, it was hailed as a masterpiece of Dutch Naturalist writing. Excellent.
on 17 February 2014
I don't give 5 stars because the writer is from my country Belgium, but just because it's a great book, easy read but so funny and tragical... I'm not a fan of Flemish writers as i like more American and English, but Elsschot is international level, one of my favourite Flemish writer of all times.