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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Cave

Tim Krabbé

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To purchase The Cave

Title: The Cave
Author: Tim Krabbé
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng.: 2000)
Length: 152 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Cave - US
The Cave - UK
The Cave - Canada
La Grotte - France
Die Grotte - Deutschland
  • Translated by Sam Garrett
  • Dutch title De Grot
  • De Grot has been made into a film. See information at IMDb

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely rounded story, a good light read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Evening Standard A 7/1/2002 J. Boyd Maunsell
The Guardian . 19/1/2002 Daren King
The LA Times . 1/10/2000 S. Salter Reynolds
The NY Times Book Rev. A 29/10/2000 Elizabeth Judd

  From the Reviews:
  • "All of which makes for a very satisfying psychological drama, as the host of narrative details slot snugly into place. But it's almost too perfect. A few more unpredictable cracks in the structural paintwork and it might have been a masterpiece. As it is, it will merely have you tearing through the pages." - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard

  • "Mostly, though, the language is cold and precise. And it has to be: for such a short book, The Cave has an awful lot in it. You may need to take notes." - Daren King, The Guardian

  • "(A) psychological thriller, a study in political corruption and, most improbably, a tender coming-of-age story in which fate binds the restless characters with an inevitability that may remind readers of Thomas Hardy's fiction." - Elizabeth Judd, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tim Krabbé's The Cave is a five-act morality play, a lean little thriller. The novel strays and rambles, jumping back and ahead over large stretches of time, with seemingly unconnected details thrown in. It seems to lose its way midway with an unexpected plot twist -- and then roars back with a vengeance. Ultimately the pieces do fit together -- remarkably well, perhaps even too neatly. Artfully constructed, Krabbé's novel is perhaps too lean and small for his ambitions, but it is a satisfying read.
       The five chapters of the novel each have a different focus. The first is a drawn out description of Dutch geologist Egon Wagter in the fictitious Southeast Asian dictatorship Ratanakiri, ruled by General Sophal ((un-)popularly known as General Suffering). Egon whiles away the day before he sets out to do what he came here to do: give someone a suspicious suitcase. It sounds like a drug deal, and the recent execution of a Dutchman named Doornenbosch on a similar errand suggests Egon is mixed up in something very, very dangerous. Draconian laws ("20 GRAMS - DEATH" it says on the friendly immigration card at customs) similar to Malaysia's make it a high risk, but apparently also high reward mission.
       Egon goes to the late night rendezvous and exchanges the suitcase with a woman who seems as nervous and ill at ease as he is. They try to preserve their anonymity, but they are also drawn to one another. It is dangerous to know too much, and at the end of the chapter Egon is on the verge of deciding whether this too is a risk he wants to take.
       The second chapter tells of Egon's first meeting with Axel van de Graaf, the man responsible for his going to Ratanakiri. Egon and Axel met when both were fourteen years old, on a "Davy Youth Travels" trip to the Belgian Ardennes. The cocksure and daring Axel bestows his friendship on Egon. His personality, though not appealing, is nevertheless winning: women adore him and men succumb to his charms as well. Axel always has his way, and he draws Egon into some misadventures on that trip, including sexual ones. Axel compromises Egon -- and Egon lets himself be compromised, only slightly against his will, feeling bad about it afterwards but nevertheless not standing up to Axel. It is a pattern that will recur again and again.
       In the Ardennes Egon decides that he wants to become a geologist. He meets Axel again years later, when he is pursuing his geological studies, and Egon begins to hang out with Axel's crowd in Amsterdam, seduced by the atmosphere and the parties. Axel is already involved in some petty crime, and Egon eventually breaks off his contact with him.
       Egon graduates and marries a woman named Adriënne -- who had, inevitably, once slept with Axel. The marriage eventually falls apart, in part because of Axel's shadow.
       Axel moves on from criminal enterprise to criminal enterprise, barely stumbling along the way and reaping great riches. His path occasionally crosses Egon's, and they still feel some connection from their youthful adventures. Isolated after his wife leaves him, his career not having taken off, Egon wishes to fulfill a dream -- to go to Roraima in South America, to study a geological window, a "hole in time" much as one he had seen in the Ardennes years earlier. He doesn't have the money to join a planned expedition, and so he turns to the only one who can help him: Axel. One trip to Ratanakiri and he would have enough .....
       The third chapter returns to Ratanakiri, continuing the action from the first. The fourth chapter describes what brought the other central player to Ratanakiri, and the fifth ties all the loose ends together, returning to the cave in the Ardennes and the first window in time.
       The Cave is about opportunities lost and fate, love and destiny, desire and ambition. Krabbé has crafted his story very carefully, focussing very precisely on certain events -- the fateful trip to the Ardennes, for example -- while skipping over long stretches in Egon's life. The end of his marriage, for example, is both signalled and concluded with Adriënne's question: "What do you think of our relationship ?", with Krabbé not bothering to go into any more detail about Egon's answer or the form of the dissolution of their relationship. The result is a novel that seems to have a surfeit of pointless detail -- until the very end, when the pieces fit perfectly together.
       The careful construction can seem too artificial, with some of the coincidences too unlikely. The dominating personality of Axel, leading Egon (and so many others) astray, is also not entirely believable and he is almost too much of a presence. However, Krabbé presents his story quite well -- the writing is solid, with some very nice touches (though, again, much of it feels crafted) -- and it is a quick and enjoyable read, with a satisfying resolution.
       Fun, light reading.

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The Cave: Reviews: De Grot - the movie: Tim Krabbé: Other books by Tim Krabbé under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Tim Krabbé was born 13 April, 1943. He is the author numerous works of fiction (and several books about chess). His novel The Golden Egg was filmed twice (once in Holland, once in Hollywood -- as The Vanishing).

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