After borrowing a book by Ivo Michiels from his father, Peter Verhelst immediately knew that he wanted to become a writer. He made his debut in 1987 with the poetry anthology Obsidiaan (Obsidian), a collection of solid, obsessive poems in which love, sexuality and death play a major role. Throughout the 1990s, Verhelst published various novels and plays. He reached mainstream audiences for the first time with his novel Tongkat (Tonguecat, 1999), for which he won the most prestigious Dutch-language literature prizes. Together with illustrator Carll Cneut, he created the children’s book Het geheim van de keel van de nachtegaal (The Secret of the Nightingale’s Throat, 2008). The duo won one prize after another for this book. His most recent novel, De kunst van het crashen (The Art of Crashing, 2015), is based on his personal experiences after being in a serious traffic accident. His work has been translated into more than 15 languages.
The Art Of Crashing
Secession Verlag, 2016
Translated by Stefan Wieczorek
Original title: De kunst van het crashen (Prometheus, 2015)
Peter Verhelst is driving on the freeway when, while passing, he hits the lost wheel of a semitruck. His car flips three times and, amazingly, he survives. Yet, in the few seconds the crash lasts, a rupture in space and time emerges.
In a remarkable way, Verhelst describes the places and times he glimpses during the accident. Ultimately, the space where everything comes together is the island, Sandy, ‘a trauma room where time is figured in a coma and located on the latitudes and longitudes of all the places in the world, where every living being loses a few seconds or a few hours. There are the missing, the forgetters, those who have been forgotten, the losers, those gone without a trace, the dodos, the mammoths and the socks.’
The Art of Crashing (German title: Eine handvoll Sekunden) is an utterly original novel, a tour de force full of stories-within-stories in which the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Besides the autobiographical element of the crash and recovery, readers are treated to a wealth of poetic prose and to an imagination that knows no equal.
Highly recommended for anyone considering a safari, or anyone who would rather experience a journey of language from his or her easy chair.