What I’d Rather Not Think About

Jente Posthuma, Sarah Timmer Harvey (trans.)

What I’d Rather Not Think About
Format
Paperback
Publisher
Scribe Publications
Country
Australia
Published
4 April 2023
Pages
224
ISBN
9781922585806

What I’d Rather Not Think About

Jente Posthuma, Sarah Timmer Harvey (trans.)

Shortlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize

What if one half of a pair of twins no longer wants to live? What if the other can’t live without them?

This question lies at the heart of Jente Posthuma’s deceptively simple What I’d Rather Not Think About. The narrator is a twin whose brother has recently taken his own life. She looks back on their childhood, and tells of their adult lives: how her brother tried to find happiness, but lost himself in various men and the Bhagwan movement, though never completely.

In brief, precise vignettes, full of gentle melancholy and surprising humour, Posthuma tells the story of a depressive brother, viewed from the perspective of the sister who both loves and resents her twin, struggles to understand him, and misses him terribly.

Review

Jente Posthuma is a Dutch writer whose work has been widely acclaimed in the Netherlands, and has been listed for a number of prestigious awards. What I’d Rather Not Think About is her second novel, but the first to be translated into English, and after the experience I’ve had with this superb book, I hope to be able to read her first book someday (intriguingly titled in its English translation, People Without Charisma).

In some ways it is tricky to recommend this book widely because of its difficult subject matter: it revolves around the grief of a twin who is trying to work out how to move forward in her own life after her brother, a long-term sufferer of depression, takes his own. To paraphrase the title, familial suicide and depression are certainly two of the key things many people would rather not think (or indeed read) about, but I want to tell you that this book is gorgeous. It is expertly crafted, moving, and at times startlingly funny, as the narrator tries to navigate the enormity of her loss.

Posthuma has written this novel in brief, discrete chapters that are incredibly sharply composed and self-contained, but that somehow flow together in a seamless way that makes it very hard to stop reading: I finished this book in two sittings. The pieces move continuously between the present and the past, through experience and memory, as the narrator thinks through their unique dual life, often resting on pop culture touchstones, which – as they do for all of us – form the bedrock of a shared experience but are at the same time poignantly mundane: I particularly loved a passage about the siblings’ habit of watching the Dutch version of Survivor together which segues into a recollection of a discussion about what they each were looking for in a life partner. It’s a clever and true rendering of everyday life with and within popular culture. The narrator spends time revisiting and analysing the moments where their paths seemed to diverge, and realising that, in spite of their closeness, there were things about her brother she did not and could never know. This short book contains a beautiful and compelling portrait of the grieving mind, as both storyteller and reader wander through the terrains of disbelief, regret, loneliness, and unending love.

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