Monday 16 September 2019

Debut novelist snaps up €100,000 literary award

John Spain

A bleak story about loneliness by an unknown Dutch writer has taken the world's most valuable literary prize.

The €100,000 Dublin IMPAC award was presented to Gerbrand Bakker last night for his debut novel 'The Twin', about a lonely, middle-aged man who lives on a farm in Holland with his bed-ridden father.

The award will be shared with his translator David Colmer. Bakker beat some very big names to take the prize, including Zoe Heller and Joseph O'Neill.

His win was a surprise, but his book is very different and although a sad story, it is ultimately uplifting. JM Coetzee has called it "a novel of restrained tenderness and laconic humour".

"Yes it's a novel about loneliness," Bakker said.

"My readers tell me the message at the core of the book is that to be lonely is okay. It's sad, but it's a reality for many people. It's not just on isolated farms, in today's world it can be in urban as well as rural areas. But with loneliness there can be tranquillity."


There are echoes of Irish rural life, although Bakker has not been here before.

Helmer, now in his 50s, lives with his elderly father on a remote small farm. He was forced to return home when his twin brother was killed in an accident.

He is detached and isolated and his existence is repetitive and joyless. "He is angry with himself for accepting this life and he inflicts his anger on his father," Bakker says.

Then the woman who was once his twin's girlfriend appears. There is a chance for Helmer to change his life. . . but will he take it?

The award is open to novels written in any language which have been published in English. Nominations are submitted by libraries around the world. The award, managed by Dublin City Libraries, is sponsored by IMPAC, a management consultancy.

Irish Independent

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