The Detour

Gerbrand Bakker

The Detour
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The Detour

Gerbrand Bakker

A Dutch woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales. She says her name is Emilie. She is a lecturer doing some research, and sets about making the farmhouse more homely. When she arrives there are ten geese living in the garden but one by one they disappear. Perhaps it’s the work of a local fox. She has fled from an unbearable situation having recently confessed to an affair with one of her students.

In Amsterdam, her stunned husband forms a strange partnership with a detective who agrees to help him trace her. They board the ferry to Hull on Christmas Eve. Back on the farm, a young man out walking with his dog injures himself and stays the night, then ends up staying longer. Yet something is deeply wrong. Does he know what he is getting himself into? And what will happen when her husband and the policeman arrive?

Gerbrand Bakker has made the territories of isolation, inner turmoil and the solace offered by the natural world his own. The Detour is a deeply moving new novel, shot through with longing and the quiet tragedy of everyday lives.

Review

This is a simple novel. There are very few characters; the subject is a Dutch woman who has moved to a farmhouse in a remote part of Wales – the setting is bleak. This Dutch woman goes by the name Emilie, and the third-person narrator tells the reader very little about her (but enough to know that Emilie is not her real name, and that she is unwell). She is alone, but she has a husband somewhere. She is very observant of the local animals, and sunbakes naked. A badger bites her on the foot. And she reads Emily Dickinson, unhappily. Why is she doing this? She was writing a thesis but it seems she has abandoned that now… Something has driven her away from her home, or perhaps she is fleeing something? Her behaviour confounds the locals, and she enjoys smoking cigarettes.

The paragraph above – replete with question marks – is fit to introduce The Detour because this novel is uneventful, and avoids giving answers. Bakker uses spare, descriptive language to establish ‘Emilie’ as a character who has removed herself from the rest of society in order to confront some sort of existential impasse. His prose is impeccably clear and uncluttered.

Very early on, Bakker establishes an ambiguous tension (without ever giving away how he has done so), which carries the reader uneasily and anxiously from the start to the finish. The story of ‘Emilie’, which gradually and coolly comes into focus for the reader, is told unsentimentally. Bakker avoids dialogue, preferring to describe the inner states of his characters, but when someone does speak, the talk is dry and unassuming, and gives the world he has created a dark and comic tone. Bakker is completely in control of his material. The Detour is startlingly quiet.

Will Heyward works for Readings in Carlton and St Kilda. He has been published in the ABR and a few other publications. He helps edit Voiceworks and is a contributing editor for Higher Arc.

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