‘The Discomfort of Evening’: A Disturbing but Compelling Read


The Discomfort of Evening is a novel like no other. In many ways, it is evocative of the traditional literary fiction genre. Told through the perspective of Jas, a 10-year-old girl — it is highly character-driven. 

My qualms with the novel lay in how it portrays discomfort — as it goes beyond certain (usually) respected boundaries. As a result, it may make many readers uncomfortable, with often, little warning. However, it makes for a truly compelling and addictive read. But maybe that’s precisely because it is so uncomfortable and strange? In the same way that many people are compelled to read and watch true crime stories — as readers, we can’t help but read on further despite our raging sense of discomfort. 

All in all — the clue is in the title for this one. In a nutshell, The Discomfort of Evening is a strange novel with a very strange feeling. 


About the Book 

A Discomfort of Evening paints a picture of rural life in the Netherlands, told through the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, Jas. She lives on her family’s farm with her two siblings and parents. One day — pretty early on in the novel — her brother tragically dies, after that, the family dynamic suddenly changes. 

As the whole family struggles to come to terms with death, havoc and strangeness are let loose. The parents start arguing and Jas, as the narrator, lets us know how concerned she is about their lack of love between each other — she picks up on every change. The family as a whole goes down a dark path. 

This culminates in a case of foot and mouth which is discovered on the farm, resulting in the culling of all livestock which not only damages the family business and their livelihood — but is another reminder of the persistence of death. In between this, Jas and her siblings have to face the changing pace of her father’s religious belief. Even though she was used to growing up in a religious household, as these events unfold, her father becomes increasingly driven by religion at all costs. 

And of course, the children rebel in their own ways. And this rebellion is completely disturbing, at times unnecessary, but all the same — completely addictive to read.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a prize-winning young poet in the Netherlands, add this is their first novel. It won the international booker prize in 2020, and has since, sold many copies worldwide, after being translated from the original Dutch. 


What Makes the novel Disturbing and Discomforting? 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”

Just from reading the title, we know it’s going to be a strange and uncomfortable read. But I never thought it would be this weird. 

Jas, inevitably, is growing up and exploring her own sexuality — which in itself — is not strange. She documents this with a matter of fact style, evocative of a young child. However, this exploration of herself, and her own sexuality, get incredibly uncomfortable when it involves her brother (who was several years older) and her sister. 

The casualness to which incest is witnessed between two siblings, one 10, and the other in their early teens, is incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing. But, this is not where it stops. When the foot and mouth outbreak happens, a vet comes to the farm to try and help Jas’ father. As a grown man, he tries to groom Jas, a 10-year-old girl, right in front of her parents’ eyes. 

But this sexual discomfort and exploration don’t stop within the family. Jas invites her friend Beth over and her brother assaults her in the cowshed. Evidently, this novel aims to incite discomfort to demonstrate one family’s decay and how disorder can reign. I appreciate the intention — but the delivery using these examples — is unnecessary. 

But there are other disturbing elements — such as animal abuse. Jas shoves an ice cream scoop into the bottom of a cow, which is described viscerally and physically. She treats them with no respect for somebody who has grown up on a farm and developed a love of animals. But perhaps, this is the result of the prevailing family dynamic infiltrating all of her actions. 

Lastly, — Jas’ mother is evidently suffering from depression. She makes it clear to Jas, at one point, that she wants to die. The whole family walk on tiptoes around her but don’t attempt to comfort her, or help her in any way. I found this one of the most disturbing elements — it wasn’t one told with graphic imagery — but simmering beneath the surface. The casual dismissal of a mother in complete suffering was far more disturbing and uncomfortable than anything else. 


How the Style of the Book Feeds into this Discomfort 

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld writes vividly, and without limits. They do not shy away from patining a visceral and uncomfortable picture of death, incest or animal abuse. It’s plain and simple for the readers to witness and feel. 

The delivery and imagery created tunes automatically into this sense of discomfort, which could be executed with greater poignancy — if you removed the incest and animal abuse. 

The author draws upon what is obviously disturbing and uncomfortable, I found myself at times, finding it clunky, gimmicky and crying out for attention. 

Through the language, style and narration of certain disturbing events, Rijneveld paints a picture of one family who is on the verge of decay — just as their farm is crumbling around them. It portrays a disturbing account of youth, grief, suffering and everyday life but propels this to new — and often — unworthy heights. 

Fo me, the parts I found most disturbing were less obvious — such as Jas’ mother’s mental decline. More examples of this slow, subtle and simmering discomfort, for me, would have been more effective in displaying the novel’s message. Although certainly unique, I feel as if this novel falls short of what it aims to achieve, and potentially, eliminates a whole bunch of readers. 


Did it Deserve the Booker Prize? 

This novel was a bestseller in the Netherlands before it was translated into English and won the international booker prize in 2020. The author grew up in a strict, religious, Protestant household — which bears a significant resemblance to the one depicted in this novel. 

Rijneveld also experienced the loss of her own brother when she was 3 and this novel, in many ways, is an attempt to document how that impacts a family. 

“Either the family grows closer or it falls apart. As a child, I could see that ours was starting to fall apart.” — Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

In this respect — it’s aims and intentions are noteworthy, making it worth a read. It is a unique way of exploring grief, trauma and growing up within a troublesome family. Rijneveld style of writing makes the novel compelling and addictive. It will also alienate many readers who don’t want to subject themselves to reading about incest and animal abuse in their spare time. 

I can see why it got the Booker prize, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily deserved it — when considering what it was up against. However, as readers, we should remember that just because a novel wins the Booker prize or has critical acclaim, it doesn’t always mean it’s good or better than anything else. 

All in all — this gets a 3/5 for me, as it was a compelling read, which explored many difficult themes. I liked the writing style and can appreciate its execution and what it aimed to do — but I have problems with the disturbance levels portrayed in the novel. And I’m not sure that a mass market of readers would enjoy reading it. But perhaps, that was the point. 


Have you read The Discomfort of Evening, if so, what did you think? I would love to know.


This article was originally published on Medium.com.

Book Review: Such a Fun Age

It has been a while since I’ve posted, but after spending lots of time trying to eek this out for as long as possible, I’m back with a review of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. It was the only book on the list that I liked the sound of – and it by far exceeded my expectations.

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid (2019)

Coming of Age/Fiction

Synopsis (Goodreads)

“In the midst of a family crisis one late evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix’s efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged.”

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that feels so close to our current moment. 

Kiley Reid provides, “a beautiful tale of how we live now” (Elizabeth Day). The story is nestled in the city of Philadelphia, and draws upon the social and racial injustices at the heart of modern, American society, through the young, black protagonist, Emria.  

The story alternates between the perspective of Emira and Alix, a white middle-class blogger. They are worlds apart but are brought together by Alix’s employment of Emira as a babysitter for her daughter, Briar. This dual perspective Reid uses allows the two polar experiences of class and race to be played off against each other, which illustrates the existence of Alix’s inherent privilege and mistreatment of Emira. 

Alix struggles to see why her treatment of Emira is problematic, despite making her wear a uniform and her history of only employing black childminders. It’s almost as if she thinks by having a black babysitter, she is doing her bit. Emira is half aware of all this, and it is her boyfriend, Kelley that exposes it more blatantly. But Emira loves looking after Briar and doesn’t want to break that bond between them. And also, the job is a lifeline, in just keeping her above the water. It takes her a while to confront these microaggressions – but the best thing of all, is that she eventually triumphs. 

The novel also looks at the influence of race in relationships. Emira meets Kelley during the incident with the police and then once again on the subway, and they hit it off immediately. But there are many differences between them, and these are explored by drawing upon their relationship,

“Emira had dated one white guy before, and repeatedly hooked up with another during the summer after college. They both loved bringing her to parties, and they told her she should try wearing her hair naturally. And suddenly, in a way they hadn’t in the first few interactions, these white men had a lot to say about government-funded housing, minimum wage, and the quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.”

Reid eloquently raises the potential fetishisation of race in relationships through the perspective of Emira and her group of friends. Emira and Kelley’s relationship is topsy turvy but explored in such a human and real way, that it’s hard not to be drawn in by it. Additionally, through their relationship Reid explores the issue of microaggressions – forms of indirect or subtle forms of racism that can often go unnoticed. There’s a performative element to the type of equality Kelley tries to portray in his social standing and worldview, that doesn’t go unrecognized by Emria,

“Like… I get it, you have a weirdly large amount of black friends, you saw Kendrick Lamar in concert, and now you have a black girlfriend…great.”

Emira

As a white, privileged person, this strikes a chord and left a profound effect on the way I perceive race, and how it influences class and relationships. It is written in a way that makes it embody the current moment. It illustrates the simmering and overt racism that exists within American society, and the small acts of unintentional racism that can go unnoticed. 

Reading this made me laugh, cringe, feel angry, and annoyed all at the same time, but one thing for sure – it touched me completely. I fell in love with Emria’s ballsy personality and sense of determination. Reid provides the reader with characters who come alive through the pages and makes you feel something, and that is the greatest gift a writer can have – I can’t believe this is a debut novel and feel excited at the prospect of Reid writing more in the future. 

This is sharp, witty, well-executed and grips you right from the start – there’s simply no messing about. I would describe it as a millennial coming of age story that combines the important, intertwining messages of class, race, privilege and how to navigate this within families and relationships.


Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

Book Haul #1 ~Ali Smith, Ottessa Moshfegh, Zadie Smith & More

It’s been a while since I have purchased physical books and enough to make a whole post out of, but I thought I would give you a quick round-up of the books I have brought in the last few months. Most of these I got this month, as I treated myself to some books for my birthday.

I love physical books as much as the next person, but that said, I am trying to consciously limit my consumption this year because I have very little space and am on somewhat of a budget. Also, with the pandemic, I’m not going out of my way to browse in bookshops at the moment.

That said, I have splurged a little this month and this is what I’ve bought.


Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Coming of Age, Fiction

I brought this because it was the only book listed on the Booker prize nominees that I had heard of and wanted to read.

It opens with an incident following a young black woman who is interrogated by the police for appearing to kidnap a young, white child. This all takes place in Philadelphia, in an affluent neighborhood. Emira, the babysitter and one of two main protagonists, looks after the child of Alix, a well known white blogger. Their lives are inextricably linked but divided along the lines of social and racial inequality.

I am currently reading this at the moment and am about seventy pages in – I’m enjoying it and can’t wait to read the rest of it. I also love the cover and design!

Autumn, Winter, Spring, Ali Smith (Seasonal Quartet)

Fiction, literary fiction

I first read Autumn a while ago but had it on loan from my local library. In love with the cover designs by David Hockney, I decided to purchase that and the rest of the books that are out in paperback. Although Summer came out a month or so ago, I’ve decided to wait until that comes out in paperback so I can have the whole collection.

This Seasonal Quartet is made up of four stand-alone novels which are all connected in some way. Having only read the first one, I don’t know how or why, but I’m guessing like the seasons, they have some similarities and stark differences. With Autumn, I feel in love with Ali Smith’s remarkable prose and sense of starkness and political commentary, so I can’t wait to read the rest of them. As a concept and physical book, they are all so appealing.

English Pastoral, James Rebanks

Nature writing, Non-fiction

James Rebanks, a farmer whose family has farmed the same land in the Lake District through generations, has published his fourth book which looks at what lands means to us and how it is owned, regulated and enjoyed in England.

I read The Shepherd’s Life last year and was taken aback by how beautifully it was written. It dealt with issues such as tourism and our respect for places of great beauty, but also his struggles with continuing the generation of farming in his family. I am very much looking forward to reading his next book as it deals with the wider political questions over land ownership, and how we can make farming into a more sustainable endeavour for the future.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh

Psychological fiction

Image: Violet Daniels

I have heard great things about this book and seen it everywhere, so I thought I’d pick it up.

Telling the story of a young woman, living in New York and struggling to figure her life out – I was naturally drawn to the premise of this novel. Being a regular insomniac myself, I am also drawn to her struggles with sleep and hopes at self-medication. From what I’ve read about this book, it combines dark humour with some heavy topics so I’m looking forward to seeing how the author navigates this contrast.

Intimations, Zadie Smith

Non-fiction, personal essays

After having a roaring success with Alone Together, I decided to give another Covid memoir a go. Although a lot shorter I figured I would enjoy this one too. Written by the highly accredited author Zadie Smith, this collection of essays documents her experience of lockdown and the emotional and personal difficulties it involved.

I know Smith is a profound and talented writer, so I am interested in reading about her perception of recent events and how it affected her life. I’m sure it won’t take too long to read either, in being such a small book.


That’s it for now! You can keep up to date with any new books I buy over on my new Instagram account. I’m trying to learn how to take nice photos but I am still new to the whole thing, so please be kind!

Happy reading, as usual!

Violet

Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.

An update & thoughts on the booker prize

Long time no see! It’s been over a week since I published my last blog post and it’s because I’ve been in a bit of a slump. Recently there have been days I can barely pick up a book – so apologies for the lack of posts and reviews.

I intentionally decided to take a week off doing anything remotely productive (writing, editing, pitching, etc) just to see if it would re-fresh me. It did at first, but then my hormones kicked in… But in that week I got back into running which was great until I injured myself with shin splints so now I’m trying to rest and am back to square one. I am in agony even when just walking so if anyone has any tips please let me know!

I am still living in a lot of uncertainty job wise – the retail sector in the UK is struggling and this is three months before the furlough scheme ends, so it is worrying. Every day it feels like the news is filled with another company making cuts with more unemployment, and the worst is yet to come.

I’ve been feeling a lot of reading guilt lately as I’ve got books pilling up on my NetGalley shelf that I haven’t read and given feedback for and I’ve also got a lot of books I’ve purchased which I haven’t read yet. We got a new bookcase last week and it’s made me realise how many books I own that I haven’t read… so maybe I should go on a bit of a book buying ban?

Image: Violet Daniels (Instagram: @_vdaniels_)

The two books I am reading at the moment are pretty heavy going – I feel guilty for not having finished a book recently but at the same time, I want to take my time with these and not put any pressure on myself.

So the Booker prize longlist was revealed on Monday and I’m not surprised I haven’t read a single title on the list… I’ve heard of two of them – Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. But as usual, I haven’t read any of them. It’s funny I think nearly every year since I’ve been following it, I’ve yet to have read one of the titles. I read Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport which was nominated last year but wasn’t really impressed with that.

Although Mantel is arguably one of the best writers around and has done tremendous work for the historical fiction genre, part of me really hopes she doesn’t win as she’s already so well known. I wasn’t hugely invested in last year’s, but I do wish Bernardine Evaristo could have won it on her own, instead of being overshadowed by Margaret Atwood who had already won the prize once. The prize itself is more valuable for the international attention and recognition than the prize money, and both Atwood and Mantel already have that. I always think these prizes should be given to relatively unknown and undiscovered authors so that they can be recognised.

Saying that, most ordinary people and readers don’t take too much of an interest in prizes so it doesn’t matter that much. However, having worked in a bookshop, I have noticed that awards sell and customers gravitate towards fiction with the Booker prize stickers on – so who knows how much it influences reading habits!

Has anyone else read any of the titles or is going to? Such A Fun Age has been on my radar for a while so I might give that a go and Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi sounds interesting.

This is a bit of a mundane post but I thought I would write it just to let you know I’m still alive and well! Life has gotten significantly flatter in recent weeks and my motivation to read and write has dipped, but hopefully that will get better soon.

I’ve recently become a contributor to The Indiependent which is a great site for aspiring writers and journalists to become part of! My first piece was a review of Colour Blind, a poem by Lemn Sissay.

Love and best wishes to you all 🙂