Review: Childhood – Two Novellas by Gerard Reve

I feel like I’ve surfaced from Childhood like it was all a dream – intense in the moment and soothing upon the refrain but with a dose of the surreal skewing my senses somewhere along the way.

It seems like Gerard Reve’s two hitter of novellas defy the idea of traditional interpretation. The storylines don’t have overt plot hooks or the usual conflicts that plague typical coming of age tales. Instead they’ve got an air of disquiet, uncertainty and primal excitement or dulled misunderstanding – the feels of children growing up in wartime.

Reve, best known Dutch literature classic The Evenings, has a gift for contorting innocence into something sinister. The first story in the slim collection is testament to this: An 11 year old sets up his own secret society that he rules over with near sociopathic coldness but even the adult parents are inappropriately unhinged in their own ways too. Or is it just how the children view them? That’s the most intoxicating aspect of Reve’s work here: it’s from the children’s point of view. The mass devastation of war is gone unnoticed but the crushing defeat of embarrassment around friends plays out like bloody skirmishes on the street.

The next work charts the increasing effects of wartime on a small town. People disappear or find that healthcare no longer is available to them. We, through the eyes of a child, sense the discomfort and simmering fear but we don’t what to do with it. Through Reve’s eyes, we are too young to know what it means but what a riveting perspective for us, the reader, to witness massive social change on a micro, immature scope.

Pushkin Press helped bring Reve’s masterwork The Evenings to wider attention and now they’ve followed it up with another beautifully artworked addition for your European literature shelf. Childhood would make for an excellent Christmas present for the discerning literature lovers in your life.

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