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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Vanishing

Tim Krabbé

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To purchase The Vanishing

Title: The Vanishing
Author: Tim Krabbé
Genre: Novel
Written: 1984 (Eng. 1993)
Length: 108 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Vanishing - US
The Vanishing - UK
The Vanishing - Canada
L'œuf d'or - France
Das goldene Ei - Deutschland
DVD The Vanishing - 1988 version
The Vanishing - 1993 version
  • Dutch title: Het gouden ei
  • Translated by Claire Nicolas White (1993)
  • The UK edition is a new translation by Sam Garrett (2003)
  • Het gouden ei has been filmed twice, as Spoorloos in 1988 (released in the US as The Vanishing), directed by George Sluizer and with Gene Bervoets as Rex Hofman, and as The Vanishing in 1993, again directed by George Sluizer and starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effectively disturbing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 12/6/2004 Andreas Rosenfelder
The Guardian . 31/10/2003 Elena Seymenliyska

  From the Reviews:
  • "Krabbés Roman handelt eben trotz seiner geradewegs auf die Breitwand im Kopf des Lesers geworfenen Bilder vor allem von der unsichtbaren Macht der Gedanken -- und das macht vielleicht den wahren Grund für das Scheitern der Hollywood-Fassung namens The Vanishing aus" - Andreas Rosenfelder, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This is horror with a modern face, revealed through finely observed details and delivered in taut, spare prose that makes panic thicken the throat. Tim Krabbé's novel, first published in Dutch in 1984 and twice filmed, points to the randomness of good and evil. He arranges his characters as though on a chessboard and watches them reach the game's conclusion." - Elena Seymenliyska, The Guardian

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:

Note: this review refers to Claire Nicolas White's 1993 translation, which has since been superseded by Sam Garrett 2003 translation; in a profile of Krabbé from 2006: "He says the first English translation of The Vanishing was "horrible", but it has been done again by an award-winning translator, Sam Garrett".

       The Vanishing is a very slim novella of obsessions, and begins with a nice twist. Rex Hofman and his girlfriend Saskia Ehlvest are driving south on vacation, through France. They're getting a bit on each other's nerves, and though they don't have to they stop at a rest station and fill up. Saskia also goes to buy some cold drinks ... and never comes back, vanishing into what seems like thin air.
       It's a baffling situation for Rex. He doesn't know what could have happened to her, and no one else has any idea either. There's nowhere she could have gone, unless she drove off with someone -- but she took the car keys with her, so that seems unlikely. The police aren't particularly eager to quickly get involved; when they do they can't find any trace either.
       The first chapter of the five-part story just describes this vanishing, before even the police get involved , the simple frustrations of trying to deal with this baffling situation. The next chapter moves ahead several years, as Rex is on vacation with another woman, Lieneke. He's thinking of proposing, but he also still has Saskia on his mind.
       The third chapter introduces the other side of the story, Frenchman Raymond Lemorne, a chemistry teacher with two daughters who has his own obsessions, curious about what it means to act -- and, in particular, to commit a crime. It builds up slowly within him, but he has an idea and, over years, makes preparations. He even practices and, eventually, the right circumstances came about -- even though they turned out not to be exactly the circumstances he had planned for. But everything falls into place, including Saskia.
       The fourth chapter finds Rex still desperately looking for clues about what happened to Saskia, taking out ads in France in the hope of finding some information. His campaign brings out all the usual cranks, but it also brings out Raymond Lemorne. And Raymond offers him closure -- though Rex understands what that means:

     "Then I'll die," said Rex.
     "You're crazy."
     "That is irrelevant," said Lemorne
       Rex can't help himself; he has to find out (and it is only when he finds out that th reader learns what Saskia's fate was, too).
       The Vanishing is effectively creepy, especially in its use of the most banal, everyday decisions turning out to be life-changing. It's a series of those small coincidences -- stopping at the rest station when they don't really have to, getting some drinks, etc. -- that bring Saskia and Lemorne together. It is literally a matter of seconds, and everything would have been different. And Krabbé nicely echoes that by having Rex base a major decision -- whether or not to propose to Lieneke -- on the outcome of a game of badminton.
       The Vanishing is also about mind-games, about those movies played out in the imagination. The void left by Saskia in a sense allows for all possibilities, but it is that which is Rex's ruin; without closure he can't let go. Saskia has her own nightmare, a dream she had as a little girl, about being:
locked inside a golden egg that flew through the universe. Everything was pitch-black, there weren't even any stars, she'd have to stay there forever, and she couldn't even die. There was only one hope. Another golden egg was flying through space. If it collided with her own, both would be destroyed, and everything would be over. But the universe was so vast !
       The Dutch title of the novel was 'The golden egg', and the book probably does work better if the focus is on that, rather than the vanishing-aspect, as the novel is a very interior one, focussed much more on what is in the minds of the characters than on their actions. And it is what is in their minds -- the golden egg, as well as Lemorne's thought-experiments -- that make the book (and its resolution) truly disturbing.
       At this point the novel may well be overwhelmed by the film-versions (and the resulting widespread familiarity with the outcome), especially since Krabbé's fiction is a fairly delicate creation (also in nice contrast to the very ugly things that happen). Still, as a compact horror-story The Vanishing remains effective, and does offer some unexpected chills.

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The Vanishing: Reviews: Spoorloos - the film (1988): The Vanishing - the film (1993): Tim Krabbé: Other books by Tim Krabbé under review: Other books of interest under review:

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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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