We & Me by Saskia de Coster (420 pages)
It’s Book Week! You may not know this because it’s mostly celebrated in the Netherlands and Belgium as Boekenweek.
Boekenweek is an annual “week” of 10 days dedicated to literature. What could be dreamier than celebrating literature for 10 whole days? Celebrating it Survivor style of course! We’ll get to that in a minute.
Boekenweek has been held in March every year since 1932. This year it takes place from March 23rd to March 31st. Events are held across the Netherlands, from book signings and literary festivals to competitions and debates.
They truly take a moment to honour and highlight the literary talents of their countries. What a wonderful notion.
Meanwhile, Canada Reads has launched here, held from March 25th-28th, 2019 Five books are chosen, five champions, one winner: CBC’s annual Battle of the Books has been getting people listening, watching and, of course, reading, for 18 years now.
Canada Reads is like a “literary Survivor,” with celebrities championing books. Each day, panelists vote to eliminate one book, until a single title is chosen as the title the whole country should read this year. Good luck to this year’s contenders!
We often daydream of travelling to Belgium. If you’ve been you’ll understand why. Which is why we jumped at the chance to read the best-selling and critically acclaimed Belgium author Saskia de Coster. While she has penned several novels, We & Me is her first novel translated into English and I can understand why. This is an epic, poetic, funny, and at times dark read. The story revolves around one aristocratic family and spans from 1980 to 2013. You’re introduced to a parade of characters each taxing in their own way.
At the core are uptight Mieke – the mom, glum Stefaan – the father, and rebellious Sarah – their daughter and the heart of the story. Each one of them is battling their own demons, as we all are.
We & Me is sharp and with precise detail teases out some universal themes. One being that the glossy, bright and luxe exterior of the wealthy and elite is not always what it seems. In this story, we get a glimpse into the dark, tender and cruel corners of the Vandersandens from their private mountain estate.
You’ll feel sad, you’ll feel hopeful and you’ll laugh.
When it won the OPZIJ Literary prize it was said that the character at the heart of the story, Sarah is a contemporary of Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina.
Things you might not dig: De Costers elegantly changes perspective and narrative voice throughout the story but this might not be enjoyable for some readers.
It also has a slow start. The book picks up in the final quarter and becomes more intense as disaster strikes the family. It’s as if this bourgeois family is operating as Stepford Wives versions of themselves. You can feel the etiquette and protocol in the air. As the story progresses the characters find themselves becoming more honest with themselves. The gift De Coster has is in how she dissects reality in detailed and pathological ways.
Happy Book Weeking! Hit us up on social if you’ve been to the Netherlands and Belgium – we want to hear about your experience there!
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