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The Misfortunates by [Verhulst, Dimitri]
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The Misfortunates Kindle Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Length: 212 pages

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Review

'Verhulst's prose is always a delight ... This is a subtle and wonderfully told story' --Financial Times

`Verhulst's gift for imagery is impressive ... the humour is pitch-black and very funny'
--Prospect

`Ceaselessly entertaining ... it bursts with humour and energy that never lets up'
--Bookmunch

'Outrageousness yields to eloquent recognition in this darkly intelligent novel' --Irish Times

'This is a welcome addition to the ranks of literary fiction that find humour, and sometimes poetry, in urban deprivation.' --Independent

About the Author

Born in Belgium in 1972, DIMITRI VERHULST is the author of a collection of short stories, a volume of poetry and several novels, including Problemski Hotel and Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill (Portobello, 2009), which have both been translated into English. His books have been widely translated and praised throughout Europe.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 305 KB
  • Print Length: 212 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1846271584
  • Publisher: Portobello Books (5 Jan. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006CPAOVC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #389,484 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By Dr R TOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 Oct. 2015
Format: Paperback
In this short but unsettling autobiographical book describing a family of alcoholics living in the Belgian working-class suburb of Arsendegem [‘where everything beautiful must leave or be destroyed’ and where ‘there was zero chance of a conifer surviving for more than two years on an access route to a good pub because all our men would piss on it.’], two scenes stand out.

The inexpressible love that the narrator, Dimmy, feels for his grandmother who, at the end of the book, is languishing with dementia in a care home and, earlier, the icy callousness when his son is born to a woman he feels has trapped him [‘There are two people I hate. One gave birth to me and the other was giving birth to my child.’].

This is not a book for the squeamish – it describes the consequences of alcoholism, the behavior of those concerned as they lose all their faculties, and the consequences that this behavior has on Dimmy’s family life. Underlying these is the threat and reality of violence, often against women. The author, rather miraculously, managed to break free of his demons and has become a novelist and poet of some renown. Here he presents discontinuous expressionist scenes from his childhood to the point where, on returning home, he finds his old relationships fragmented and distanced.

Each chapter recounts a different segment of Dimmy’s life and breaks off without the ending being obvious; this creates an entity that is significantly more than a series of short stories. The central characters are Dimmy’s immediate family, his postman father, Pierre, grandmother and four uncles, including Girder and Herman, together with others from the rapidly-diminishing drinking circle.
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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel is told from the standpoint of the grown-up Dimitri, and is a recreation of scenes from his childhood in a close by chaotic Belgium family with a grandmother, sons of many ages given to drinking and Dimitry, her grandson, also learning the ways of life in such a family.

There are memorable episodes - the family watching Roy Orbison's Black and White Night in the house of unsuspecting immigrants to Belgium who have invited them round to integrate better (Roy Orbison being a big hero of the misfortunate family), and Dimitry's farewell to his now demented grandmother, initially touching and then comic as his uncles insist on his joining them and her to try to recollect and re-enact drinking songs for a folklorist. Both the sadness at leaving behind such roots and the clear benefits of living a more 'normal' life as a writer come through.

Not a great work, I felt as I reached the end of this short novel, but certainly something very different.

Two footnotes about Verhulst's life, drawn from an interview in The Big Issue: his father died at 37 from cancer and had made at that time 5 unsuccessful efforts to stop drinking; Verhulst finally lost all contact with his uncles after his book, published originally in 2006, was turned into a film which was very successful in Belgium and there was too much press interest in their lives...
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