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Het leven uit een dag

A. F. Th. van der Heijden

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Title: Het leven uit een dag
Author: A. F. Th. van der Heijden
Genre: Novel
Written: 1988
Length: 168 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Ein Tag, ein Leben - Deutschland
  • Het leven uit een dag has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : an unusual and good idea, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit Today . Fall/1989 Fred J. Nichols

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The complete review's Review:

       A. F . Th. van der Heijden's novel has a fantastical premise, as suggested in its title. The world in which the novel opens is one where human life passes in a single day. The central character is Benny Wult, a baby at dawn, a toddler going off to school in the morning. Like all the other inhabitants of this world he grows slowly through the day, learning and maturing, expecting eventually to age and die as the day draws to a close.
       Benny is told to pay careful attention at school: nothing will be repeated, he is warned. This absence of repetition is one of the most striking features of the world of the novel. It applies to almost all human activity. It is only possible to get drunk once in life, it is only possible to engage in the sexual act once, and a woman can only get pregnant once. (After the first consummation the sexual organs wither away uselessly.)
       Benny does his military duty as the day approaches noon, becoming a pilot. Fully grown by this time he meets Gini, and feels the stirrings of passion and love. It leads, eventually, to their having sex (at which time Gini also gets pregnant -- her only chance to become a mother).
       Van der Heijden's epigraph for the book comes from Ionesco -- not the Sartreian "Hell is other people," but rather: "L'enfer, c'est la répétition" ("Hell is repetition"). In this one-day world of unique, unrepeatable events the people are taught that hell actually is a never-ending place where they are doomed to the endless repetition of days. It is the worst thing they can imagine -- but Benny and Gini are not satisfied with their single act of love-making: they want to repeat it. The only way they can imagine doing this is by getting to this fabled hell. They brutally kill a helpless blind man in order to be punished -- killed and doomed to hell.
       They are tried and sentenced to death in the electric chair. Gini gives birth before they are dispatched. The novel then focusses on Benny's trip to the otherworld -- he does indeed land in a world where the sun sets and people continue to live to see the sun rise again the next day, where the aging process is so incremental that it is barely perceptible (unlike the world he comes from, where one literally grows out of one's clothes as one wears them). In other words, he lands in the world as we know it.
       Among the surprises is that his victim, the blind man, is also there (not so innocent after all). Gini, however, proves harder to find. Benny has to take on an unusual occupation to survive in this world, which does turn indeed out to be the hell of repetition.
       Van der Heijden has spun out a fancy tale here from this premise. Much of it is done very well, as he captures scenes and moods effectively. Ultimately, however, he does not go quite far enough. He is satisfied with the often very clever pieces, making for a decent, haunting fable -- but he could have done more with it.
       A good read, with some inspired ideas, though ultimately falling a bit short.

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Het leven uit een dag: Reviews: A. F. Th. van der Heijden: Other books by A. F. Th. van der Heijden under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Adrianus Franciscus Theodorus van der Heijden was born in 1951. He is the author of numerous highly acclaimed novels, including the multi-volume saga, De tandeloze tijd.

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