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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Esther Gerritsen

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To purchase Craving

Title: Craving
Author: Esther Gerritsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 187 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Craving - US
Craving - UK
Craving - Canada
Mutters letzte Worte - Deutschland
Sed - España
  • Dutch title: Dorst
  • Translated by Michele Hutchison
  • Dorst was made into a film in 2018, directed by Saskia Diesing

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Our Assessment:

B+ : stylish black but not too dark study of interesting characters and their interactions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
De Groene Amsterdammer . 8/11/2012 Joost de Vries
NRC . 19/10/2012 Arjen Fortuin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/11/2018 Melissa Maerz
Trouw . 10/11/2012 Jaan Ruyters
de Volkskrant . 3/11/2012 Simone van Saarloos

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hoewel Gerritsen de gekte-versus-normaal-botsing soms wat hardhandig doorvoert (...), zit Dorst vol beelden (...) en kleine intimiteiten die het buitengewoon integer doen aanvoelen. Misschien is ‘integer’ een gek compliment voor een roman (want: het is fictief), maar toch kwam die kwalificatie het meest bij me op. Het is geen emo-tv, geen kijk-ze-eens-gek-doen, Esther Gerritsen wil niet scoren door sentimenteel te doen, geen Grote Woorden op het doodsbed, maar gewoon, moeder en dochter die op hun manier, samen, een einde beleven." - Joost de Vries, De Groene Amsterdammer

  • "Daarbij zorgt het volslagen gebrek aan sentimentaliteit -- zowel bij de personages als de auteur -- ervoor dat deze roman over een stervende vrouw nergens larmoyant wordt. Zoals Gerritsen toch al aangenaam uit de buurt blijft van alle voor de hand liggen verlangens en ontwikkelingen die het gros van de romans zo volslagen voorspelbaar maakt. (...) En dan toont zich de beperking van Dorst, want hoe sterk Gerritsen ook is in het neerzetten van haar sociaal minder begunstigde personages, het is veel moeilijker om hen ook nog een geloofwaardig plot binnen de loodsen. (...) In het laatste deel van Dorst komt de roman weer tot leven." - Arjen Fortuin, NRC

  • "It takes work to figure out how to read Craving, just as it takes work to read Elisabeth herself, but that work is extremely rewarding. Gerritsen’s stark prose leaves a lot of space for interpreting and reinterpreting Elisabeth’s tone and motivations, which feels generous, both to the reader and to the characters." - Melissa Maerz, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Ze onderzoekt de donkere kieren in de menselijke geest zoals een speleoloog een grot: heel secuur, met oog voor de schoonheid van het detail, en onbevooroordeeld en onbevreesd in haar associaties. Dorst is ingetogener dan Superduif maar even sensitief. (...) Gerritsens heldere, lichte proza past in een golf nieuwe literatuur van schrijfsters die menselijk ongemak vangen zonder melodrama. (...) Maar van die schrijfsters is Gerritsen wat mij betreft de vindingrijkste" - Jaan Ruyters, Trouw

  • "Gerritsen lijkt in haar werk eenzelfde ritme van huppakee en allee hop in te zetten om het menselijk falen dat haar werk kleurt toch een lichte cadans te geven. Haar simpele, maar zware zinnen treffen doel" - Simone van Saarloos, de Volkskrant

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:

       Craving begins with an awkward mother-daughter reunion of sorts: twenty-three-year-old Coco, who hasn't lived with her mother since she was five and who rarely sees her now that she is at university, is cycling in one direction, her mother Elisabeth headed in another; surprisingly -- so the opening line of the novel:

     For the first time in her life, Elisabeth unexpectedly runs into her daughter.
       The encounter is an awkward one -- culminating in Elisabeth sharing some rather dramatic news: she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and there's little that can be done about it; she is dying. She then quickly flees the scene, leaving Coco to digest the news -- with Coco eventually deciding, without consulting her mother, that the thing to do is to move in with her, back into her early-childhood home.
       Lack of open communication is definitely a problem between mother and daughter, with Elisabeth unable or unwilling to express her feelings very well and tending just to go along with things, letting everything somehow work itself out, for better and worse. She's not thrilled by the presence of the foreign element -- and Coco is a very foreign element -- back in the house; however well-meaning Coco might be, it's a disruption of a domestic order Elisabeth has long been used to. And Coco has her own issues .....
       Elisabeth was not a great mother -- and toddler Coco was a handful. Typically, Elisabeth simply tried to avoid the problem -- a lifelong habit --: for a while, she just locked the youngster in her room and left her to her own devices -- padding everything so the child couldn't hurt herself --, and though Coco doesn't remember it, she's shocked that her mother treated her that way; it's harped on rather a lot, and reverberates into the realigned present day. Coco was also involved in a spectacular domestic accident when she was young, and her by then divorced parents settled on having her move in with her father, Wilbert, and the woman from work he then married, Miriam, when Coco was five; as with everything else, Elisabeth simply went along with it. Coco still spent one night a week at her mother's -- Miriam arranged it, "the best setup for everyone". After all, this way: "The child experienced the mother, the mother couldn't do much serious damage".
       The characters in Craving know what's coming. Elisabeth is dying, and that's what events move inexorably towards: her death. It's something extreme and absolute -- but at least there's the clarity of what will ultimately happen.
       Out of this set-up, Gerritsen offers a characters-study, a half dozen figures in Elisabeth's orbit both dealing with the inevitable while also ... being themselves. There's Martin, her employer -- Elisabeth is a talented gilder, "The best framer in the city, that's what she is", who could always be depended on -- who handles all her paperwork and errands. There's ex-husband Wilbert and his understanding wife. There's even the hairdresser Elisabeth and Coco share. And there's the older man Coco has been seeing for the past year, Hans, who initially shies away from any involvement in Coco's new drama -- "I'm sorry sweetheart, but I'm not interested in your mother" -- but ultimately changes his mind after meeting Elisabeth, intrigued by her after all.
       Coco and Hans' relationship is rocky, with Hans eventually considering pulling back from it -- as Coco had long anticipated. Here, as with everything else, Coco tends to focus on the abstract rather than emotion; she wants to hold onto him because she wants to be in this relationship, rather than because she might be in love with him. Similarly, in her behavior towards her mother, she is acting out something rather than honestly feeling it (or understanding her feelings). She prepares for situations -- or tries to -- according to what she believes might be expected, rather than simply reacting: "a moment will come when her mother asks her for something. Be alert now. It won't be much, pay attention"". She tries to control her actions -- a kind of manipulation, even if it's rarely really thought or worked through. Typically, at one point with Hans:
She has to stay calm. Act reasonable. This is not unusual. It went wrong with her first boyfriends. They always stopped. Everyone is afraid of all that emotion, and she is only afraid of not feeling anything anymore.
       Unable to -- or trying too hard to -- channel her emotions, Coco eventually does act out, showing almost no restraint, trying to slake an overwhelming craving (yet also relieved when she has an excuse to pull back).
       Almost throughout Craving, everyone manages to be terribly understanding -- doing what, certainly on some level, is the kind and proper thing to do. It doesn't always work out that way -- Coco moving in with her mother causes more tension than either of the two women need -- but it seems to be the right thing to do. But behind it is a failure of true communication, of understanding each other -- with only the blunt hairdresser less concerned (or aware of) niceties; unsurprisingly, Elisabeth told her hairdresser about her diagnosis before revealing it to anyone else -- and, indeed:
her conversations with him never go wrong. Words exchanged between her and the hairdresser tinkle like loose change: short, quick melodies. [...] There aren't any inappropriate words at the hairdresser's. As he dries her hair, they speak loudly. She can shout out words above the racket that would need to be whispered in other places.
       Gerritsen captures mother and daughter particularly well, her short, clipped sentences and scenes effectively conveying their uncertain states. The way they talk past each other, too -- down to Elisabeth's final: "I love you" -- is beautifully captured, convincingly true to life even as they strive for book-perfect scenes that they can't ever quite pull off. The supporting characters, too, work well, their own lives largely remaining in the background, but playing their significant roles here.
       Craving is darkly comic, and almost never too indulgent; Gerritsen's light touch with Elisabeth's decline -- there's no wallowing in it -- helps a lot. Coco going off the rails are the only points where the narrative seems to be in danger of slipping away; the fundamental point -- the craving of the title -- fair enough, but, with its excess, slipping a bit from Gerritsen's grasp in its description, in contrast to the otherwise so well-controlled narrative.
       A sharp characters-study, where the difficulty of communication doesn't become too enervating, Craving is impressive in its presentation and an agreeably unsettling read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 April 2019

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Craving: Reviews: Dorst - the film: Esther Gerritsen: Other books by Esther Gerritsen under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Esther Gerritsen was born in 1972.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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