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The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

I really don’t know what to make of this one. The Booker Prize winner for 2020, The Discomfort of Evening is set on a cattle farm, capturing the story of a family overwhelmed by grief after the death of a son.

It is told by a sister who daydreams of having parents who see her, and who are not encased in their own sadness. In order to protect herself, she constantly wears a red coat that she refuses take off, no matter how dirty it becomes.

The way she and her surviving siblings deal with their newly dysfunctional family are strange and often incredibly disturbing.

The take their frustrations out on animals, and several sections detail the death of an animal, or cruelty towards one.

There is also a sexual element to the dysfunction, as the children explore their sexuality in ways that are unsettling.

The death of the sibling is not the only difficulty the family faces, but they also endure the distress of putting down all of their cattle after foot and mouth is detected. They have to deal with this devastation while barely coping with their previous loss.

The book is beautifully written, but I found it to be very strange and unenjoyable. Clearly, Rijneveld was writing of the manifestations of grief, but it was all so uncomfortable that I never settled into the book. Perhaps that was the point of it.

The author herself has come from a family that experienced the same kind of grief as that they detail in this book, so perhaps there is an element of autobiography in what has been written. And maybe it is a reality that I don’t want to gaze into quite so deeply.

If you like books that unsettle you, or push boundaries, perhaps this book is for you, but I just found it too challenging.

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