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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Esther Gerritsen

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To purchase Roxy

Title: Roxy
Author: Esther Gerritsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Roxy - US
Roxy - UK
Roxy - Canada
  • Dutch title: Roxy
  • Translated by Michele Hutchison

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Our Assessment:

B : solidly presented portrait of a suddenly upended life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 19/5/2016 Eithne Farry
De Morgen . 24/9/2014 Fleur Speet
de Volkskrant . 22/9/2014 Arjan Peters

  From the Reviews:
  • "The unpredictable heroine embarks on a series of erratic adventures (.....) She ponders her childhood and her role as a parent to try to rediscover a sense of stability. It's a tricky ask, as this raw, unsettling book confirms." - Eithne Farry, Daily Mail

  • "Gerritsen weet daarmee de angstaanjagende precisie en donkerte van iemand als Samuel Beckett te vangen. Als dat geen nominatie voor de AKO of Libris oplevert, eet ik mijn hoed op." - Fleur Speet, De Morgen

  • "Maar haar omgeving -- inclusief deze lezer -- zit allengs ongeduldiger te wachten op het moment van bezinning en van terugblikken op dat huwelijk. Gebeurt niet. We blijven opgescheept met een onuitstaanbaar mens, met een dochter die geen manieren heeft, die jengelt om slaapliedjes en telkens vraagt waar papa is. Te erg. Op zo'n kind kun je toch niet kwaad worden. En evenmin op die theatrale jonge weduwe, met haar neuroses en ongeremdheid. Zo heeft Esther Gerritsen ons stevig in de tang. Het is bloedirritant goed gedaan." - Arjan Peters, 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:

       Roxy opens with tragedy: the police come to tell Roxy that her husband, Arthur, has been killed in a car accident. Beyond losing the man she has relied on for the past decade, Roxy also learns that he was cheating on her: he was found naked, with his intern, who also died.
       Roxy is an author -- but almost of the one-hit wonder sort. Her debut, written in her teens, was a breakout hit, but she's struggled with the follow-ups -- as she herself recognizes, summing up her publishing-career as consisting of, to date, three works:

One trashy, successful book, and two humourless monstrosities, but well, I'd already signed contracts.
       Being with Arthur took the pressure of success off her -- he could more than provide -- and she's been happy to sink back into a life out of the direct limelight. Roxy ran away from home with Arthur when she was only seventeen, and the older man -- thirty years her senior -- has been the center of her life since. Indeed, for the past decade: "Arthur was enough for her" -- with their now three-year-old daughter, Louise, the one other constant close presence dominating her day to day life. Arthur's death leaves an immediate large void, and she obviously feels at sea, with no one to really turn to -- not that she can even really imagine turning to anyone.
       When the police come, they push Roxy to call someone, but she isn't close to her parents, and she doesn't have any real friends; there's no one she wants to reach out to -- indeed, her character is such that she does: "anything to avoid having to ask strangers for help". She's managed fine by herself for so long that she doesn't even really know what to do with what support is then proffered. But she can't avoid it: the death brings together a variety of people, as a motley crowd gathers around her, trying to help her along: her parents come for the funeral, for example, and hang about for a while. There's also Liza, a student in her early twenties who is Louise's babysitter, who makes herself helpful. And Jane, Arthur's personal assistant, continues in her role, now helping Roxy out with everything that needs to get done.
       Roxy feels uneasy with all this attention, but then Roxy doesn't really know what to feel. She acts impulsively, and no one can really criticize her for that; she also does go along with what needs be done. She acts out a bit -- her libido goes into overdrive, in part no doubt a reaction to Arthur's unexpected betrayal -- and eventually she flees, in a way: the second half of the novel is essentially a road-trip novel, as Roxy and the gals -- Liza, Jane, and little Louise -- head off for the Mediterranean coast: a holiday, a break.
       Gerritsen juggles a fairly large cast of characters around Roxy, and her handling of them is impressive, taking care of each with a few simple observations and dialogue as they shift back and forth from fore- to back-ground, including Roxy's alcoholic mother (whose drinking the family has comfortably adapted to) and her father, who slips easily into whatever situation he finds himself in. Toddler Louise is frequently underfoot, in and out of the way the way small children constantly are (though admittedly Liza's presence helps free up Roxy for some of the scenes); her interaction with her mother -- and her (limited) understanding of what happened to dad -- are nicely realistically captured. And Jane and Liza are useful foils to Roxy, her interaction with them revealing more about her than them.
       Gerritsen's writing is (clipped-)dialogue-heavy, with a great deal of quick back and forths (and back, and forths), with no frills -- there's practically no description of tone or feeling to the spoken words, leaving it to readers to imagine these (much as with a play-script). This contrasts particularly effectively with the very tight and close focus of the novel on Roxy, everything refracted through her -- a character who does not play particularly well with others, having so long lived in her own little largely isolated world, and who has difficulty making sense of her feelings and emotions.
       Roxy's leap into adulthood was an unusual one, and there's a sense that she stalled in her late teens, when she ran away with Arthur, the past decade of their life together an odd period almost outside of time: yes, Roxy had a child and published some more books, but otherwise she seems not to have advanced substantially. (She's still terribly young, too -- only twenty-seven.) While the situation now confronting her makes for a great deal for her to work through, there's also a past she seems never properly to have dealt with -- her parents -- and a future -- most obviously in the form of her own child -- that is now even more uncertain.
       Roxy's first novel was a bit of a working-through of family issues -- it is very much about her father -- but just as she never seems to have moved beyond that in her later writing, so too in life itself she simply withdrew into the comfort of life with Arthur (and with practically nothing and certainly no one else). Her husband's death is a jarring event, and Roxy's reactions are nicely conceived and presented by Gerritsen, making for a solid character-study of the protagonist at this (pivotal) point in her life.
       It's a somewhat odd little book and story, though certainly one that packs a punch, including stylistically. Roxy is perhaps most successful in Gerritsen's refusal to wallow in the sentimental -- to the extent that Roxy is presented as a ... difficult person, and not a particularly sympathetic one (entirely realistic, in other words). This then is also what makes what resolution there is -- specifically in her connection with her father, and her ability to (begin to) move on -- all the more effective.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 February 2020

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Roxy: Reviews: 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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