Apart from his work as an anthologist and as former Dutch Poet Laureate, Gerrit Komrij is primarily known as a critic and essayist with a biting pen. For many years he published sharp and witty comments on the utterances of well-known and famous Dutch people in the daily newspaper “NRC Handelsblad.”
For a long time my lavatory wall was adorned with his comments about a statement of former politician Boris Dittrich (“I have the feeling that the change inclined fervor, which Pim Fortuyn brought us in 2002, fades away”). Komrij analyzed this remark bitingly, in a way as only he can.
However, Komrij doesn’t just tar and feather, he also writes novels. In his latest work, “De loopjongen” (The Messenger Boy, Amsterdam 2012), Komrij describes the life of Arend Wiebenga in three parts. Arend Wiebenga is “the son of the first woman minister of the Netherlands.” Part one deals with Arend’s school days. He’s searching for a friend. According to Arend friendship is an implied agreement between someone he has chosen and someone who’s chosen him, without them knowing that from each other. His search is rather awkward and achieves no results.
Arend wants to be a writer and “write other books, without message. He should want that the sentences would direct him, to distant countries where everything can happen and the sentences are king.” In the second and most expressive part we read about Arend’s student days. This are the sixties, the period of student insurrection and demonstrations. Arend ends up in leftist revolutionary circles. In part three Arend finds himself in the jungle, where he has joined some kind of guerrilla movement.
Arend is put on the sidelines when he refuses to literally pulverize the captivated enemy. In the radical movement Arend strikes up a friendship with Bob, the leader of the revolutionaries. In an addendum we get to read that Bob worked for the Internal Security Service and thought of Arend Wiebenga as “an idiot”...
This concludes a book in which Komrij primarily leads us through the chimeras of a somewhat confused preacher’s son. The thinking out loud happens certainly in beautiful, well-turned sentences, sometimes even with the typical Komrij humor. But it is too little to make it a successful novel.
According to the author the three parts of the novel represent the three periods of his own life. In “De Boekenkrant” he compares his own growing up in Winterswijk with Arend’s course of life: “Everyone who’s not from Amsterdam, was retarded. I even hadn’t ever seen gay men. In Anna Blaman’s novels I had read that gay men wear suede shoes. Well, I kept looking and searching...”
In “De loopjongen” this search emerges especially in the first part when you presume that Komrij is going to play the gay trump. For example, Arend swoons about the boys in overalls from the school opposite his home. But Komrij wouldn’t be Komrij when he didn’t give his story a completely different twist...