The Discomfort of Evening is the debut novel by Dutch poet Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Discomfort does not even begin to describe it. Winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize, the book is not at all a pleasant read, but it would be impossible to argue that the writing is anything short of stellar.
Rijneveld tells the story through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl growing up on a Dutch dairy farm. Anyone who has grown up on a farm or ranch would describe Rijneveld’s details of the smell, the cold, and the sounds of the cattle shed in the depth of winter as authentic and accurate. Rijneveld pulls from her own experience working on a dairy farm and it is clear she knows that world well.
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At the beginning of the book, Jas loses her older brother to a skating accident. She, her parents, and her two remaining siblings are left to cope, not very well, with the bleakness. Much of the book is deeply disturbing, even cringe-worthy as the family becomes unhinged. As a reader I wanted to intervene, help them, hug them.
This book is not for everyone and I would caution readers that this was probably the most disturbing book I have ever read. I briefly expected there to be some kind of light at the end, but I was mistaken. Still, I have to say Rijneveld has an remarkable gift for putting the reader right in the moment through the eyes of an innocent child.