Dutch geology student Alfred Issendorf makes a wonderfully quixotic journey in this previously untranslated 1966 gem from Hermans (1921-1995), a Dutch novelist who worked in Paris. Alfred sets out for Norway's northernmost region of Finnmark with three other students to try to confirm their professor's dubious hypothesis that regional craters resulted from meteor impact rather than Ice Age glaciers. Insecure, exhausted, doubting his career choice and barely up to the physical rigor of trekking through the Arctic wilderness, Alfred begins to imagine that everyone-his companions and their mentors-is plotting against him. But he is determined to make his mark, mostly to compensate for the loss of his biologist father who fell into a mountain chasm when Alfred was six. The story takes an unexpected turn when Alfred loses his compass-literally-and reveals surprising reserves of fortitude and cunning. For all his anxiety and irony, he also proves a sympathetic narrator, particularly in the development of his relationship with Arne, one of his companions, who is in many ways his opposite. In this moving tragicomedy, Alfred's self-knowledge is achieved at great cost and offers him little hope. Hermans's portrayal of Alfred's existential transformation is deep and crystalline. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Alfred Issendorf is a geology student with big dreams: he wants to make that one great scientific discovery that will make him famous. However, a series of wild goose chases in search of maps he needs to continue his work, colleagues who try to be helpful but waste his time, and Alfred's own introversion and paranoia make the realization of his dream a near impossibility. Though he finally arrives in Norway on a geological expedition, he continues to impede his own path to scientific fame. Translated from the original Dutch (Hermans was a noted Dutch author who died in 1995) and told in the first person, this work attempts to create an atmosphere of discovery, both of self and of other lands. But slow-moving scenes tend to drag the story down, and readers may not get past their lack of real empathy for the crotchety Alfred. Not recommended for most libraries, except those where travel fiction has a strong following.
Scholarly ambition encounters unforgiving factuality in this previously untranslated 1966 novel from the Dutch author (1921-95) whose edgy experimental fiction includes The Tears of the Acacias and The Dark Room of Damocles. Narrator Alfred Issendorf is a 25-year-old geology student who joins a scientific expedition to northern Norway (Finnmark), afire with dreams of establishing his reputation, ideally by discovering "a mineral that would be named after me: Issendorfite." Alfred's determination to prove his professor and mentor's thesis-that craters found in the earth of the remote area just north of Lapland were caused by fallen meteors-quickly founders. Contacts lack vital information; promised aerial photographs never materialize; Alfred's watch and compass malfunction; and mosquitoes plague his every step. Hermans deftly connects Alfred's hunger for success with memories of his tense relationship with his mother (a renowned literary critic who doesn't actually read the books she writes about-take that, reviewers!) and inchoate memories of his father, a botanist who died from a fall into a mountain crevasse when his son was seven. The narrative of Alfred's ordeal-which is beautifully detailed and consummately suspenseful-is also nicely varied by episodic scenes among the protagonist and his three Norwegian fellow travelers: easygoing Arne, unimaginative plodder Mikkelsen and effusive autodidact Qvigstad, a fount of eccentric information who never stops talking. And Alfred's habit of measuring himself against storied heroes of exploration and discovery provides a firm layer of irony-marred intermittently by numerous reiterations of his gathering fear that "I will have achieved nothing.I will have survived, that's all." Such fatalism is both confirmed and tempered by the lucid conclusion, in which a "gift from heaven" decisively completes his journey. An unusual and intriguing book, and a welcome introduction to the work of a neglected 20th-century master.