The Foxes Come at Night by Cees Nooteboom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"The dead, if neglected for too long, can affect you that way."
Another stunning book from Cees Nooteboom! During the 60 years of my adventure with books I have had various favorite writers: from Hugh Lofting and Jules Verne during childhood, through youthful fascinations with William Faulkner, through Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Joyce, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez - to mention just a few literary giants towering over my middle age - to the recent obsession with J. M. Coetzee, whom I first read just over two years ago. But it is the extraordinary prose of my newest favorite author, Cees Nooteboom, that resonates the strongest with my literary sensitivities. I have never been so totally mesmerized by anyone's prose: not even by Joyce's unparalleled maturity and depth of insights about people, not by the spellbinding charm of Garcia Marquez' magical realism, and not even by the crystalline mathematical clarity of J.M. Coetzee's writing. Not only am I awed by Mr. Nooteboom's poetry of prose and his mastery of evocative moods, but also his favorite themes affect the deepest layers of my emotional self.
The central themes in Mr. Nooteboom's fiction are human impermanence, the fleeting nature of our existence, the questions of human identity and the essential role of memories in shaping who we are. His stories reveal the most horrifying truth about our ephemeral existence: the ordinary people die twice: first, the death takes them away from the realm of the living, and then, gradually, they turn into complete nothingness, when people who remember them die too. Soon they exist no more and it is precisely as if they have never existed at all. My grandmother still exists a little, because I remember her. Even my grandfather, whom I never met as he died over seventy years ago in the Mauthausen concentration camp, still exists a tiny bit, because she had told me about him. When I die, though, they will disappear forever.
The Foxes Come at Night (2009) is a collection of eight short stories, ostensibly connected through their setting at various points of the Mediterranean coast, but what really matters is that they are about memories of people whom we once knew and who are now gone. Any attempt of mine to summarize the stories would be ridiculous and would debase the beauty of the prose, so let me just say that although I love each one of the eight pieces, Paula and Paula II are absolutely unforgettable. The latter, a contemplation of our gradual passing from being to nothing, is likely the most stunning piece of writing I have ever been privileged to read. Loneliness is the fate of human life and most of us realize how lonely we will be at the moment of death, but we probably are not eager to imagine the utter loneliness when the memories of us vanish.
140 pages of a literary masterpiece. Wonderful translation from the Dutch by Ina Rilke needs to be acknowledged as well.
"My fingernail pressing in your hand that time, watching Antonioni. [...] Leave-taking. The last goodbye. You have opened your window. Gust of wind. That was me. Rustle, whisper. [...] All very fleeting. As we are. Gone."
View all my reviews