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Freitag, 05 Februar 2010

Saskia Noort

Back to the Coast and The Dinner Club 

The thriller is an open, variable genre, free from the more formulaic conventions of the classical or hardboiled crime novel. Jerry Palmer referred to the thriller as a machine ‘designed to build up excitement’ and a suspense-driven plot is an essential requirement (Palmer 1978, p. 57). Typically, moreover, thrillers address the concerns of a modern society, recent fears and contemporary dangers, and the psychological thriller is particularly adept at this.

Saskia Noort’s fame in the Netherlands was both recognized and cemented when her novella Afgunst (Jealousy, 2007) was selected by the Society for the Collective Promotion of the Dutch Book during its annual ‘Month of the Exciting Book’, the Dutch catch-all term for the thriller. It concerns the story of Susan, a successful writer first stalked and then kidnapped after a book reading, by her ex-lover, a failed novelist. Opening with a motto by Winston Churchill, ‘You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life’ (Noort 2007, 5), Noort presents her narrative from a mixture of viewpoints, with chapters by Susan’s current lover, her abductor, as well as the kidnapped woman herself.

ImageMaria Vos, the protagonist in Back to the Coast (2009), Noort’s most recently translated novel, is also targeted by a stalker and poison pen writer. Her original fear, that a recent abortion has attracted a deranged pro-life attacker, sends her and her children back to the coastal town of her childhood. As the singer in a moderately successful band and a consummate performer, she too is a woman in the public eye. Maria shares with Susan a kind of residual guilt for her own stalking, a feeling of shame and paranoia, as if her confidence, her independence as a young woman has attracted this sinister attention: ‘And while I had been giving it my all night after night, desperate for fame and recognition, I had been spotted by some dangerous maniac. The truth is, I had put myself at his mercy. Had I made other choices, none of this would have happened’ (Back to the Coast, 78). Back to the Coast is a typical whodunit, only one where the victim has not yet died. One by one the people in her vicinity fall under suspicion: the father of her first child, Steve; the depressive Geert, her most recent lover and the man whose child she aborted; her sister Ans and her accountant brother-in-law. Maria’s paranoia grows until she even feels her children drawing away from her and attaching to her safer, more solid sister.

Like Afgunst, Back to the Coast presents a female protagonist who ultimately is thrown back on her own resources to escape an increasingly desperate situation. The modern anxiety these novels address is a very female fear of ultimate isolation and rejection, of being singled out and cast out for a life that was too independent, too self-assured.

ImageMuch of Saskia Noort’s universe concerns the trappings of a modern, confident thirties generation. By far her most appealing novel is The Dinner Club (2006), playing amongst young, well-heeled professionals, business men and women in the full flush of success, but vulnerable too, overconfident while living in a house of cards. Their success, their egotism – they buy villas and cars and live in a flurry of parties and drinks – lead them to ignore their weak spots. As in the two other novels, Karen is forced to reconsider her life and her success as a wife and mother. She comes to distrust her golden circle of friends, the members of her dinner club and their successful husbands. The Dinner Club features women who seem to have it all, a wealthy self-employed husband, a beautiful home in the country and in some cases a small business of their own. This is the world of Four-by-Fours and garden ornaments – ‘Desperate Housewives scripted by Patricia Highsmith’ as the cover says – a life of raunchy parties and self-indulgent shopping trips. Perhaps it is a form of Dutch protestant guilt: these golden people too seem to be catapulting towards a crash and the unavoidable dissolution of their circle and their lives.

While Noort’s novels read fluently, her readers steered efficiently and keenly towards the final plot denouement, some of the endings are predictable, especially to those familiar with the construction of movie thriller plots. Frequently, her plots are characterized by a final twist, a technique which of course in itself becomes a predictable motif. Indeed, Back to the Coast recently premiered in the Netherlands as a successful feature film. However, it is especially Noort’s female protagonists that appeal, modern young women who are ambitious, creative, resourceful and full-blooded sexual beings. And this is a nice development: Noort’s heroines are never idealized – they are most distinctly flawed – but neither are they the stereotypical vulnerable women of the more old fashioned crime writing. They are, moreover – even more refreshing - female characters who are allowed to make their mistakes, who marry inadequate but appealing men, who have inappropriate lovers, are unable to resist sexual thrills or a tacky, adulterous night of passion. They are flesh and blood women with very clearly stated lustful responses to the men they meet, and Noort fully analyses the power dynamics of love relationships, the dangers of throwing it all over for a man, of being ‘too impulsive, too lazy and too chaotic’ (Back to the Coast, 18). And there is the danger of being too submissive to a lover. Both Maria and Susan have emancipated themselves from male domination and abuse: Maria’s ‘addiction’ for her first lover and manager Steve ended when he was forcibly removed by the police while the much more sinister Ernst undermined his girlfriend Susan in true wife beating style. Saskia Noort writes dynamic, exciting plots that address a mainstream feminist message. She presents the healthy paranoia of the modern woman: lovers can leave you, husbands can two-time you and children can be faithless. A girl has to be prepared…

Letzte Aktualisierung ( Montag, 08 Februar 2010 )
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