Morning all! Today I am hosting an extract of Saskia De Coster’s novel We and Me. I’ve just finished reading it, so there is a review to follow, but as a bit of background, it’s an originally Flemish novel, translated by Nancy Forest-Flier and introduces the Vandersanden family, living in luxury seclusion in an exclusive community in Belgium and shows us their very personal family and individual dramas.
I’ll save the full synopsis for the review, but I do have the extract below to tempt you…
Stefaan longs for a place of his own for keeping his music, his tools, and his heirlooms in order. He demands a hobby room. ‘A hobby room?’ Mieke sputters. ‘Are you going to start inventing hobbies?’ When he tells her about the old tools from his parents’ farm and how he wants to polish them, Mieke becomes more receptive to the idea. ‘You mean a shed, a junk shed?’ Stefaan gets her blessing for his hobby shed, to be built at the back of the garden. Before he even has a chance to consider his plan from a broader perspective, she has gone ahead and consulted with Elvira, her good friend and arbiter of taste, and drummed up an architect and a construction firm. An official from environmental planning also shows up, who is pleased to receive a fat tip. For Mieke, a new project has presented itself on which she can direct her energies.
A chain reaction is unavoidable. Now that Papa’s getting a hobby shed, Sarah wants a pond. Stefaan is dead set against this ‘ridiculous’ idea and blocks it with a well-considered argument: ‘Out of the question. You like cats, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ says the unsuspecting prey.
‘Cats drown in ponds,’ Stefaan points out.
‘Squirrels dip their dirty, germ-infected tails in them and infect the whole biotope,’ Mieke chimes in. A pond is kitsch and kitsch is the bastard child of style and class. Before you know it there’ll be a gnome with a fishing pole on your lawn or a stone frog with a little crown on his head. No, nip it in the bud, that nonsense.
Mieke supervises the work on the hobby shed with heart and soul. Putting up an extra outbuilding―her father would have been proud to see her carrying out this ancient Flemish custom. It’s thanks to her eagle eye and the managerial capacities mastered by every housewife that within scarcely three weeks a miniature house is erected in the back garden with hot and cold running water, electricity, a desk, a sturdy workbench, and a whole battery of tools on the fibreboard walls. Gutters lead the rainwater from the roof to the cistern, and the tiles on the floor form a fleur-de-lis pattern.
The evening of the project’s completion, Mieke makes an exception and lets Stefaan drink two glasses of red wine instead of the customary ration of one. For inexplicable reasons she tears into him in bed that night, demanding sex twice without any fuss or wheedling, as if they were a couple of kids―or at least that’s how Stefaan imagines that kind of sex to be: turbulent, awkward, deeply satisfying. For a moment the thought flashes through his mind that maybe he’s made a new child, but he knows that those days are gone forever.
Stefaan is reborn the first evening he sets a ladder against the outer wall of his hobby shed and climbs up on the roof. He knows that from now on things can only get better. No more valleys, only peaks. Although peaks are also valleys standing on their heads.