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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Evenings

Gerard Reve

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To purchase The Evenings

Title: The Evenings
Author: Gerard Reve
Genre: Novel
Written: 1947 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 317 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Evenings - US
The Evenings - UK
The Evenings - Canada
Les soirs - France
Die Abende - Deutschland
Le sere - Italia
Las noches - España
  • A Winter's Tale
  • Dutch title: De avonden
  • Translated by Sam Garrett
  • De avonden was made into a film in 1989, directed by Rudolf van den Berg

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Our Assessment:

A : remarkably effective novel of the everyday

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 11/3/2017 .
Financial Times . 4/11/2016 Laura Garmeson
The Guardian A+ 9/11/2016 Tim Parks
Irish Times A+ 12/11/2016 Eileen Battersby
Literary Review . 2/2017 Lucian Robinson
The NY Rev. of Books . 5/12/2019 Philip Huff
The Spectator A 31/12/2016 Laura Freeman
The Times . 19/11/2016 Fiona Wilson
TLS A+ 30/11/2016 Shaun Whiteside
Wall St. Journal A 2/2/2017 Sam Sacks

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed; glad to see it finally available in English

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bleak, droll and exquisitely expressed, in the manner of Samuel Beckett’s near-contemporary works of fiction, The Evenings hints at the anguish that underlies this anomie." - The Economist

  • "As the reader accompanies Frits through a string of strange encounters, his recurring monomania and morbid, surreal dreams contribute to a mood that is listless and oppressive, yet curiously compelling." - Laura Garmeson, Financial Times

  • "It is so rare, as a reviewer, to come across a novel that is not only a masterpiece but a cornerstone manque of modern European literature, that I hesitate before setting down a response: what can I say, in a world of hype, that will put this book where it belongs, in readers’ hands and mind ? (...) Both for its hero and its author, this novel is a tour de force of filling space, of turning tawdry emptiness into comedy of the highest order (.....) It may sound dire, but Reve’s sparkling collage of acute observation, droll internal monologue and pitch-perfect dialogue keeps the reader breathless right through to the grand finale" - Tim Parks, The Guardian

  • "It should also be acknowledged as one of the finest studies of youthful malaise ever written. (...) For a narrative so funny, it is also profoundly moving. (...) Little happens, yet a great deal does. It is a people-watching novel, rich in character and bantering dialogue." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "Garrett captures the consistently anxious, suggestive, and haunting tone that runs through The Evenings like a live wire -- one that, after seventy years, is still electrifying. (...) The novel's driving force is the narrator's struggle with the world around him. The Dutch seemingly wanted to rebuild a society on egalitarian principles, but mostly people withdrew into their own private lives, far removed from the "nobility" of their goal." - Philip Huff, The New York Review of Books

  • "Frits is not immediately likeable company. If you wanted to make him a noble struggler against the dreariness of life, you’d call him a nihilist. You’d talk of anomie and ennui and existential crisis. He’s a little bit Meursault, a little bit Lucky Jim, Holden Caulfield, Portnoy and Adrian Mole." - Laura Freeman, The Spectator

  • "By the time you reach the end of this novel, in which very little happens yet very much is told, you can’t help but feel a little lost." - Fiona Wilson, The Times

  • "(W)hat a curious work it is. (...) It is the repetitions of the novel that make it so mesmerizing: the cyclical days, the jokes, the scurrilous stories, the endless disquisitions on baldness and its remedies, the slow, claustrophobic mealtimes (.....) The novel is dark, funny, unsettling and lingers vividly in the mind." - Shaun Whiteside, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Evenings is a canonical work of postwar European fiction, capturing the age’s spiritual alienation through an acidly comic style that reads somewhat like an extended monologue from Beckett, but one riddled with morbid jokes and mock grandiloquence. (...) The narrative ripples constantly from absurdist joking to biting ridicule to lacerating self-doubt. Reve reminds us that there are always two layers to our conversation, our spoken voice and the internal critic that monitors and judges everything we say and hear. Reve captures both at once (.....) For a novel in which nothing happens, The Evenings builds up remarkable tension." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

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:

       The Evenings recounts the days of Frits van Egters -- ten days, from 22 December 1946 through New Years, recounted in ten chapters. Frits is twenty-three, living -- though fairly independently -- with his parents, with a good if dull job:

I work in an office. I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again. That is it.
       The novel is an account of his largely uneventful days (and nights), through Christmas and up to New Year's. While there's an omniscient narrator, the focus is entirely on Frits, and a great deal is interior -- what he thinks, often presented in quotes, as if he were speaking in his mind, as well his dreams, which play out almost like real-life and blend into waking moments (as he often sleeps rather fitfully)
       Real life is pedestrian and numbing, and often he finds himself facing: "'The empty hours,' he murmured, turning away". There's almost nothing of Frits' office life -- as if it isn't even worth mentioning -- beyond the fact that it doesn't appear very taxing, and that in this holiday season he can go home fairly early and he gets a few days off. His main concern is how to fill his evenings, and over the course of these ten days he visits and meets a number of his friends, goes to the cinema and a school reunion, and even gets completely drunk at a casino. But that still leaves a lot of empty time: "'I just sit here and don't do anything,' he thought".
       There are also meals and casual time with his parents, though they also often go their own ways, the family in a loose sort of orbit that finds them together often enough but also drifting apart.
       There's a theatricality to Frits' interior monologues and observations; while he tends to the civil -- if occasionally confrontational and/or abruptly direct in interaction, in his mind he rolls his eyes and comments more dramatically, as when observing his father eating:
Gritting his teeth he watched as the man speared three potatoes from the platter with his own fork. "Tht is unclean," he thought, "a violation of every precept. But we stand powerless."
       He gets along well enough with his parents, but in typical fashion -- Frits tends to the glib and callous, or even cruel in his very direct manner -- he responds to one inquiry about how his parents are doing.
I'm only waiting for them to hang themselves or beat each other to death. Or set the house on fire. For God's sake, let it be that. So why hasn't it happened yet ? But let us not despair. All things come to those who wait.
       He goads others, notably the petty thief, one-eyed Maurits; "'Let's see how far I can go', he thought", for example, in seeing just how far he can cruelly prod his acquaintance. Frits also enjoys telling hard-edged jokes and anecdotes, and claims to revel in stories of misery:
     "The devil take me," said Frits, "it is a delight to me each and every time. Those reports like: child killed by exploding grenade. Glorious. Deferred suffering from the war. That is always a joy. They always start of so cosily, those reports," "the seven-year-old son," he said in an impassive voice, "of the Karels family, agriculturalists in Breda, attempted on Wednesday afternoon to dismantle a small anti-aircraft shell with a claw hammer."
       Though set shortly after the end of the Second World War, there's barely any mention of it -- only a few looks back to those times, as well as hints of some of the lingering consequences (including those instances of "deferred suffering" that continue, in various forms, to surface -- or the fact that there are still shortages and: "everything is still so hard to get"). Yet even as on the surface the war has been put behind them, the aftereffects clearly still hang in the air, contributing to the sometimes almost nihilistic atmosphere.
       Even as Frits is active and involved, seeking out company and doing something, he doesn't find the satisfactions he is looking for, moaning:
"What an evening," he thought, "what an evening. When is it going to end ?"
       Frits tries to force himself to participate, to play along, but even as he and everyone else goes through many of the motions, there's a sense of a society that's battered and only slowly putting itself back together again -- as evidenced particularly by much of the sharp and even cruel banter. Frits does well with the banter, and tries to go along with the rest:
"There is no going back," Frits thought. "Let us adopt an impassive or, if need be, even cheerful expression."
       Frits suffers from his generation's ennui and his own uncertain position -- he has a job, but with his limited schooling perhaps limited prospects; he doesn't have any sort of love-life -- and stumbles on in these dark, wintery days: "'The day is void, and the evening without content,' he mumbled". He's frustrated with his situation, and with himself:
Things take place around us. Yet we barely notice them. We have ears, but we hear not, eyes but do not see.
       Maurits voices what many of Frits' acquaintances surely also feel about his hard statements: "I just wish I could figure out when you're being serious". But Frits carefully controls his serious side -- so that, at best, those that know him might react like his father: "'Don't pay him any mind,' his father said, 'he's only blathering'".
       Nevertheless, he is not as indifferent as he makes himself out to be: tellingly, tears come to Frits repeatedly -- "'And now the moment for tears has arrived,' he thought. His eyes grew moist." -- breaking the hard shell of indifference he tries to maintain
       In summary, the relatively uneventful The Evenings sounds like it should be dull -- or, as Frits sums up:
"All in all, it is dreary," he thought, "most dreary."
       Yet it is anything but. In his cataloguing of the simple, everyday Reve's sharp eye makes for a consistently enjoyable read. And while Frits is a determinedly unsympathetic protagonist, and yet Reve humanizes him: he is a representative of his generation, warts and all, and fascinating as such.
       Projecting on his father, Frits internalizes his own misery:
"It is no disaster to be unhappy," Frits thought, "but how discouraging must it be to know that there is nothing to pin the blame on, outside oneself ?"
       An almost deadpan tone also helps make this a very comic novel, along with some genuinely funny interactions (including the New Year's disappointment when the mother mistakenly buys a 'berry-apple' beverage, rather than a bottle of wine: "Help us, O eternal one, our God. See us in our distress. From the depths we call to you. Hideous.""), as well as running gags such as Frits' obsessive worry and theorizing about baldness (and his constant pointing out to others that they are growing bald), as if this were the worst thing that could befall anyone (displacing his more serious concerns):
"Deliver me from baldness," he said, pushing back his hair and examining the hairline. "It is a gruesome infliction."
       Reve's pitch-perfect tone -- especially of Frits' stilted interior voice, but also in describing the humdrum -- and Sam Garrett's well-attuned translation make for a very engaging read. There is considerable ugliness here -- moments of great unkindness, and flashes of darker undersides -- that can be off-putting -- but they fit with the work, and Frits' world; the surrounding everyday absurdities do help make it more palatable.
       The Evenings is not a novel in which much happens -- not much of note, anyway -- and the characters are not particularly sympathetic. There is no great arc of growth or adventure, either -- and yet it is a near-perfect novel, an astonishingly accomplished work for such a young writer, who captures a time -- of life, and in history -- exceptionally well.
       Highly recommended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 December 2016

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The Evenings: Reviews: De avonden - the film: Other books by Gerard Reve under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Gerard Reve lived 1923 to 2006.

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© 2016-2021 the complete review

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