From the beauty of the writing, it's hard to believe this is Kuitenbrouwer's first novel.
This is a fascinating tale, which intertwines the fable of a woman pursued by a feudal lord, with that of a modern woman dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault and the resultant pregnancy. The fable is based on a Flemish and French fairy tale collected by Charles Deulin and which Andrew Lang included in The Red Fairy Book. In it the lord forces the woman who is the object of his obsession to spin the cloth to be used for her wedding shift and his shroud from nettles. As she makes his shroud, however, the lord falls ill and does not recover until she stops spinning. When later he becomes ill again, and so ill he wishes to die, he cannot do so until she finishes his shroud.
The protagonist of Kuitenbrouwer's novel, Alma, is a young woman at odds with modern life who heads out into the north to plant trees with a somewhat motley and rootless crew. There, she is raped, runs deep into the forest and discovers she is pregnant. She holes up in a cabin with a mysterious elderly leprechaun-like recluse, who may or may not be real. He claims, after all, to be a survivor of the Titanic.
Kuitenbrower captures the verisimilitude of camp life in the north perfectly, and it's not a pretty picture. My skin crawled and I wanted to take a bath after reading about the filth, the bugs, the sweat, the dirt, and the back-breaking, repetitive, mind-numbing toil. But her writing is so lovely, and so perfectly suited to the fable-like quality of the narrative, that I was glued to the page.
This is a dreamy, lyrical novel, which nonetheless manages to create a brooding, menacing atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to see what she'll do next.
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