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Belgium in the raw - for this young boy, a place of drunkenness and general debauchery,
This review is from: The Misfortunates (Kindle Edition)
In The Misfortunates, Dimitri Verhulst has given us an image of a working-class suburb (the fictional "Arsendegem") of an un-named town in Belgium where drunkenness and low-level violence predominate.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Dimitri Verhulst was came from a broken home "and spent his childhood in foster homes and institutes". The publicity for the book says that it is semi-autobiographical - a book where the author has taken his life as a starting point and then embellished the bare bones of his life to make it more entertaining and readable. The reader never knows where reality ends and fiction begins but as the boy in The Misfortunates is called "Dimmy" there is obviously enough reality in the book that the author can say, "This was my life".
The Misfortunates is a collection of vividly described episodes from the childhood and youth of a boy living in a family which is so dysfunctional that its difficult to see how a child could survive it. This is a world of drinking, violence and poverty so severe that it is not surprising that Dimmy ends up being taken into care. The book reminded me a little of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha in that it doesn't try to tell the whole life story of the boy but describes various episodes in his life.
The family's life revolves around the pubs of the locality including The Liars' Haven, which hosts a drinking competition based on the Tour de France, in which each stage consisted of drinking monumental amounts of beer.
On one occasion a bailiff comes to the house to claim recompense for the family's debts only to find that the furniture is so broken and battered that its not worth taking. Eventually taking the television with him, the family are left having to find somewhere to watch that night's Roy Orbison concert. They con their way into the home of a local immigrant couple, bringing a case of beer with them and show the couple "the true face of Belgium" by hurling cushions at the ceiling and dancing on the table.
One riotous episode follows another. Social workers pass through, sessions in drying-out clinics are wasted away with extravagant, beer-soaked, home-coming celebrations. Eventually Dimmy grows up and away from his dreadful family - a man apart, driven by an internal search for something better.
I tend to think of Belgium as a fairly cultured European nation and was surprised at the level of debauchery apparently found in Dimitri Verhulst's Aresendegem. However, the book is humorous throughout and despite the crudeness of the events described, the author frequently launches off into lyrical prose which adds a layer of unexpected beauty onto this terrible world.