Bart Moeyaert completed a teacher training programme for Dutch, history and German, but quickly made the transition to writing. He wrote his first book at the age of 16; three years later it was published as his debut: Duet met valse noten (Duet Out of Tune). Emotions always play an important role in his books, whether they are written for early readers or young adults. His style is often described as sensory, pure and poetic. Moeyaert is also known for the oppressive, sweltering atmospheres he is capable of evoking. He has received various awards for his work. In 2014, the Dutch Literature Fund and the Flemish Literature Fund appointed him as the art director for the Frankfurt 2016 project, where Flanders and the Netherlands will make a joint appearance as the guest of honour at the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair. Moeyaert’s work has already been translated into 19 languages.
Luftschacht Verlag, 2013
Translated by Doris Mayer
Original title: Graz (Querido, 2009)
Bart Moeyaert’s new novel Graz was sparked by a repeat visit to that Austrian city at the invitation of the Graz Literary House, in a hotel room with a view. In the novella, the author projects himself in the fictitious figure of Herman Eichler, the business manager of ‘Zum guten Hirten’ pharmacy opposite the hotel. The man is unmarried, stable, orderly and precise, a model of reliability. To his customers he gives much-appreciated support and good advice. He describes himself as ‘a good soul, an honest soul’ as well as ‘a poor searching soul’. In reality he is timid and has difficulty making contact.
With women, even forward ones, he remains reserved. His father’s authority weighs him down and when the pharmacy is renovated, he is unable to remove the old-fashioned name from the windows.
One day, right in front of the pharmacy a girl falls off her bicycle. He picks up the casualty’s wallet and finds that it was not a girl but a boy. This knocks the pharmacist sideways and emotions suppressed deep down begin to stir. That evening he grows restless and, in the night, unable to sleep and driven by curiosity, he decides to deliver the wallet to the boy’s address. On the way back, he allows himself to be seduced into a short sexual encounter with a man. Next morning he is still shaken up and no longer quite himself in his dealings with the neighbours. It makes him realize how distressing his isolation and loneliness are.
Bart Moeyaert’s prose excels in its subtlety. Without actually naming emotions or referring directly to them, his description of ostensibly unimportant actions and behaviour skilfully evoke subdued longings. The city of Graz with its monuments forms an appealing backdrop to a series of walks undertaken by Eichler, one in the past during the daytime, and now a risky one in the present, at night. These are hesitant attempts to break free of his prescribed, apparently harmonious existence.
Eichler, pathetic, pitiful yet endearing, gradually wins the heart of the reader. Graz is an extraordinarily attractive urban novel in which Bart Moeyaert plucks at the heartstrings.
A splendid novella.
With small, subtle shifts, Moeyaert succeeds in easing the initially ponderous story towards increasingly buoyant channels, gradually, skilfully, animating a dull old world.
Moeyaert prefers to orient himself to the small rather than the large, so we shall not be reading about a storm. Moeyaert does not roar, he rustles. It is a pleasing sound.