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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Het bestand

Arnon Grunberg

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Title: Het bestand
Author: Arnon Grunberg
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 172 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: in: Die Datei - Deutschland
  • Het bestand has not yet been translated into English
  • Het bestand was made into a TV film in 2017, directed by Thomas Korthals Altes and starring Stefanie van Leersum

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Our Assessment:

B : intriguing if underdeveloped novel of cyber/reality

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NRC . 27/2/2015 Toef Jaeger

  From the Reviews:
  • "Het bestand is geen vrolijk makende novelle, maar blij word je nooit van Grunbergs boeken, en dat is dus ook geen diskwalificatie. Zijn boeken zijn namelijk meestal absurd, intelligent en sterk. Helaas gaat dat niet helemaal op voor Het bestand. Hierin worden teveel ideeŽn op de lezer losgelaten zonder dat de consequenties ervan worden uitgewerkt" - Toef Jaeger, NRC

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:

       Het bestand -- a title which translates both as 'file' (as in: computer, for example) and 'truce' -- centers on Lillian, a twenty-four-year-old still living with her parents whose main connection to the world at large is via the internet. She's had a go at several majors at university, but dropped them one after another; she briefly worked as a waitress but quit after she figured out her parents were subsidizing the make-work position; mostly, she spends her time in front of her computer. Mathematically talented, she became a good hacker -- with an early online experience in which she was taken advantage of teaching her to be careful and try to stay anonymous.
       Lillian doesn't entirely fashion reality around her, but she is not particularly grounded in the actual one. So, for example, at thirteen she became convinced she was an Asian princess -- a notion that she continues to cling to. She doesn't live entirely in her own world, but does have difficulties with connecting with others in real life; she tends to zone out, on and off, when interacting with others in person, often withdrawing into mental mathematical calculation. She has also long been a vegetarian -- arguably another example of her distancing herself from the flesh (i.e. anything corporeal). So also later she gets hives where she has been touched, as if she had become allergic even just to simple physical contact.
       Her online life has gone through stages as well -- including one where she put herself on display (perhaps not the ideal means of getting to understand the opposite sex, all leering voyeurs here). Lillian is convinced that the only salvation for humanity and the world lies in a turn inward: the problems arise when people interact in person, the solution is a withdrawal into a virtual reality, everyone only connected electronically.
       The novel begins shortly after the death of her father. She applies for and gets a job at a computer security firm, BClever (their motto: "Your Security is Our Business") -- though the position is only that of receptionist, i.e. not what she's really good at, but she's fine with that.
       An online-acquaintance, calling himself Banri Watanuki, is friend, guru, and guide to her. A somewhat distant, mysterious presence, he seems to guide her along her way -- at least that's how she interprets it; she trusts him, though she remains uncertain of his identity and intentions.
       At work, Lillian does get closer to one colleague, Seb -- whom she also comes to suspect is Banri Watanuki -- and also catches the eye of her boss, Axel, who eventually asks her to become his assistant. Both Seb and Axel also have their quirks -- techies with their own particular obsessions and personality defects.
       Having achieved professional success, Axel nevertheless also looks at a bigger picture -- imagining that the second coming of Christ will come as a computer virus: Christ as malware. Indeed, he is part-creator (Creator ?) of a virus with this potential -- unleashed if not yet active.
       Het bestand is inconclusive -- suggesting a world already essentially lost to this computer-viral second coming but without it having (fully ?) manifested itself yet. The damaged and damaging souls of the story are oh so human -- humans being the weak point of every system, as Axel points out -- and, save Lillian's mother, are also twisted in and by a virtual world that makes for a disconnect from others -- physically, most obviously, but also otherwise.
       Grunberg's story is suggestive rather than typical, spelled-out-in-all-the-details dystopian cyber-future-vision. He excels at drawing his human figures -- Lillian, in particular -- and evokes a great deal well, such as Seb's peculiar madness or Lillian's parents' difficulties in dealing with their so different daughter. But Het bestand feels a bit thin, the story underdeveloped -- more sketch than full fledged novel. There is a great deal in the sketch -- it is a busy, full short novel -- with a great deal captured in many scenes and episodes, but Grunberg is tackling such a large idea -- the second coming of Christ as a computer virus, the ultimate in malware -- which seems to get a bit lost in all this.
       With chapter-headings devoted to 'Rules of The Internet' ("There will always be even more fucked up shit than what you just saw"), Het bestand is a leap into the online present and future, but as in all his writing, Grunberg is more focused on the (damaged-)human element -- for better and worse here. It's a captivating story, helped by the strong writing, but ultimately does feel a bit too thin.

       Het bestand was apparently written in experimental style, Grunberg monitoring the physiology of the creative process while he wrote, as also summarized in Wired: Putting a Writer and Readers to a Test by Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times. Perhaps this also contributed to the more compact presentation -- such a large idea presented in such a relatively short text --; in other respects, it does not seem to have affected the text per se.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 November 2018

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Het bestand: Reviews: Het bestand - the TV film: Arnon Grunberg: Other books by Arnon Grunberg 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 Arnon Grunberg was born in 1971 and has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2018-2023 the complete review

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