Cave

Overview

A stunning psychological thriller about friship, drugs, and murder from the author of The Vanishing.

Egon Wagter and Axel van de Graaf met when they were both fourteen and on vacation in Belgium. Axel is fascinating, filled with an amoral energy by which the more prudent, less adventurous Egon is both mesmerized and repelled. Even as a teen, Axel has a strange power over those around him. He defies authority, seduces women, breaks the law. Axel chooses Egon as a friend, a ...

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Overview

A stunning psychological thriller about friship, drugs, and murder from the author of The Vanishing.

Egon Wagter and Axel van de Graaf met when they were both fourteen and on vacation in Belgium. Axel is fascinating, filled with an amoral energy by which the more prudent, less adventurous Egon is both mesmerized and repelled. Even as a teen, Axel has a strange power over those around him. He defies authority, seduces women, breaks the law. Axel chooses Egon as a friend, a friendship that somehow ures over time and ends up determining Egon's fate.

During his university studies, Egon frequents Axel's house in Amsterdam, where there is a party every night and women fill the rooms. Though Egon chooses geology over Axel's life of avarice and drug dealing, he remains intrigued by his friend's conviction that the only law that counts is the law he makes himself. Egon believes that Axel is a demonic figure who tempts others only because he knows they want to be tempted. By the time he is in his forties, Egon finds himself divorced and with few professional prospects. He turns for help to Axel, who sends him to Ratanakiri, a fictional country in Southeast Asia. Axel gives Egon a suitcase to deliver-and Egon never returns.

Utterly compelling and resonant, The Cave is an unforgettable story of betrayal in the spirit of Tim Krabbé's remarkable first novel, The Vanishing.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Krabb , a Dutch writer living in Amsterdam, published a sophisticated horror novel, The Golden Egg, seven years ago, which was made into a movie, The Vanishing. His second novel is likewise a cleverly wrought tale of death and suspense, but it's one that falls outside the ordinary formulas of horror or suspense fiction. It tells the psychologically fraught story of three individuals who meet as adolescents and whose lives intertwine in various ways. The linchpin of the tale is Axel van de Graaf, who from childhood is the kind of unpleasantly charismatic figure who attracts people against their will and better judgment. As a child, Axel is an independent daredevil; as an adult, he becomes successful in the violent underworld of international drug smuggling. He befriends the novel's protagonist, Egon Wagter, at summer camp in Belgium. It's a strange relationship from the outset: Axel seems to love and admire Egon, who is at best boring and unimaginative. Egon is drawn into orbit around Axel at camp, and in later life is unable to break loose. Eventually, Egon's modest life falls apart. His wife leaves him (she also once was drawn to Axel's more vivid existence), and he proves to be a failure as a geologist. When the opportunity for adventure presents itself, he eagerly seizes the chance to travel to South America with a scientific expedition. But he needs money to participate, so Axel agrees to let humdrum Egon act as a drug courier to a Southeast Asian country, where capital punishment for drug offenses is common. There Egon meets an American woman to whom he is as spookily drawn as he has always been drawn to Axel. Her story unfolds from the novel's midpoint onward, and in a surprising finish, Krabb draws the strands of his tale together in the novel's eponymous cave. This writer's art is one of indirection and understatement. His fine, spare prose weaves a seamless web of vividly imagined reality, and his grasp of daily life in Holland, Massachusetts and Southeast Asia is completely persuasive a tribute no doubt in part to the work of his translator. (Oct.) FYI: A film version of The Cave will be released in November. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
This is a diamond of a book--perfectly proportioned, multifaceted, and containing not one wasted word. Krabb , author of The Golden Egg (later adapted as the acclaimed Dutch film The Vanishing), relates the story of geologist Egon Wagter and his lifelong acquaintance with Axel van de Graaf. When they meet as teenagers on a field trip to a newly opened cavern in Belgium, Axel is a devil-may-care young man who breaks all the rules and draws tent-mate Egon into his adventuring, altering the course of Egon's life in a fateful way that only becomes clear well after this short novel reaches its mid-point. As the book opens, Egon is smuggling heroin into a small, fictional Southeast Asian country known for its no-tolerance policy toward drug running. A series of flashbacks reveal what has happened to Egon since meeting Axel and Axel's connection to this latest exploit. At the heart of this tale is a tragic love story, in the classical sense of the word. Garrett's translation from the Dutch is elegant and unobtrusive. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/00.]--David Dodd, Marin Cty. Free Lib., San Rafael, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Elizabeth Judd
Tim Krabbe's new novel is a psychological thriller, a study in political corruption and, most improbably, a tender coming-of-age story in which fate binds the restless characters with an inevitability that may remind readers of Thomas Hardy's fiction... Krabbe -- who is also the author of The Golden Egg, a creepy thriller that was made into the film ''The Vanishing'' -- writes deft and unsentimental prose, and the low-key elegance of his tale comes through in Sam Garrett's lovely translation from the Dutch.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Dutch novelist Krabbé—a contemporary noir master who's a cross between Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson—is best known for his eerie novel The Golden Egg, which was filmed (brilliantly) as The Vanishing. This 1997 thriller (also recently filmed) is an artfully structured tale of virtual innocence abroad: a keen psychological study of the appropriation of a vulnerable personality by its stronger counterpart. The accidental friendship that links passive geologist Egon Wagter with charismatic, sinister Axel van de Graff ("an innovator in Dutch crime, with an organization that spanned ten countries or more") leads Egon to southeast Asia, a drug-related nexus of interlocking intrigues, and a satisfyingly nasty climax in "the cave" that has long awaited him. Krabbé revs up the tension expertly via several ingenious shifts in viewpoint and carefully placed surprises, in a fabulously plotted melodrama that will doubtless inspire another terrific movie.Laymon, Richard ONCE UPON A HALLOWEEN Cemetery Dance(P.O. Box 943, Abingdon, MD 21009) (260 pp.) Oct. 1, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374529161
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Krabbe is the author of The Vanishing which was made into an award-winning film. The Cave was a bestseller in The Netherlands. He lives in Amsterdam.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One

To Bring a Bag to Ratanak


* * *


After about a kilometer, as he'd been told, he saw it. A wide concrete building five stories high, back off the road at the airport's edge. In front of it was the parking lot. A few cars stood glistening in the sun. A fence separated the lot from a field that ran right up to the road, with low bushes, trash, the remains of crumbled walls and, in the middle, a lone, crooked palm.

    Above the entrance to the building were words written in indecipherable curls, but he knew what they must say: BUILDING OF FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN RATANAKIRI AND VIETNAM.

    At eleven he had to be at that lot.

    The fear rushed in his blood like an infatuation.


Suddenly, the minibus taking Egon and a few other guests to the Holiday Inn drove into Ratanak: a swirling, honking sea of white shirts, scooters, bicycles, cycle-rickshaws, minibuses, delivery trucks, filling the boulevards from curb to curb. Along both sides were smaller eddies of ghost-drivers who hadn't dared to cross to their own halves. Everything was trying to honk everything else aside, and Egon's van, honking incessantly itself, swung through it all, thumping over gaping holes in the pavement, missing oncoming traffic by a hair. Everything was carrying something: baskets, madcap stacks of wood, clusters of live chickens with legs lashed to handlebars. In cycle-rickshaws were ladies and their daughters in pretty blouses; in a chair on a handcart was a silent old woman. In a flash, Egon saw a rat in themiddle of the road, immobilized, its haunches already crushed, waiting with terrified eyes for the wheel that would put a finish to it. A few of Egon's fellow passengers, including the man in the white hat whom Egon had suspected of being his convoy ever since that morning in Bangkok, were taking pictures. He should be doing that too, but the parking lot paralyzed him.

    Along the sidewalks were little stands, most of them with signs in curly letters, but there were also a few he could read, for HOT TOCS and POKKA, THE NUMER ONE DRINK IN RATANAKIRI. Laughing boys played at pool tables, and everywhere men were squatting in puddles of oil, amid wheels, exhaust pipes, gears, and gas tanks, like the remains of a routed, butchered army of scooters. The side streets were open garbage dumps, with pigs, chickens, naked children, women with yokes. And everywhere, covering entire sides of buildings, was the portrait of General Sophal, Worker Number One, lord and master of Ratanakiri. Always the same portrait: Sophal, twenty years younger than he was, strict and benevolent, a grave god, a mild murderer in a sparkling white-and-green uniform set against a fiery red background—the national colors. The portraits were the only thing immaculate about Ratanak; they were probably touched up as often as Sophal's uniforms went to the cleaners.

    At a square, the minibus got caught in traffic, right across from a huge billboard showing a crudely drawn syringe with a thick red cross through it.

    "Ratanak only three traffic lights!" the driver laughed. "All kaput! Finish!" But he tore loose and they were off again, carried along on all the insane off-and-moving, this flow of irrepressible, buoyant life. And in the midst of it, Egon and his bag, like a deadly virus in an exuberant bloodstream.

    He wondered whether the other one was already in Ratanak.


His room on the sixth floor of the Holiday Inn looked out over the Tonlé Kong, the Great River, calm and gleaming, a kilometer wide at this point. Here and there were clusters of little boats, hundreds of them, with thatched roofs like floating Gypsy caravans. When he opened the door to the balcony, the heat, which he'd forgotten about for a moment, rolled over him like a drop of amber that would hold him forever. He backed inside and closed the door.

    On a low table at the window lay a folder with girls' faces and telephone numbers. The clock radio beside his bed said it was a quarter past one. Less than ten hours left.

    Suddenly Egon was crying, although he caught hold of himself after the first sob, so he wasn't sure it could really be called crying. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Aaah! Aaah!" he said. Something pressed against his chest, again and again, like an airbag, blow after blow. He rocked his upper body back and forth, looking at the suitcase he'd put on a chair.

    Damn it, I'm hyperventilating like some old woman, he thought, what were the things that made me cry? There were three.

    He undressed and went into the bathroom. Under the shower he tried to recall what those three things were. The humiliation of trying to make money this way, which was worse than having no money at all. The sense of being lost, here in a city full of creatures with whom you couldn't exchange a syllable. The relief of having made it through customs—he'd almost fainted when the nod came for him to move on with his suitcase. The horror at having made it through customs. They knew everything, as though the warning on the immigration card, RATANAKIRI—20 GRAMS—DEATH, had been stamped on his forehead. They had let him go on his way, the man in the white hat kept an eye on him, and at eleven they grabbed him, along with the other one. The unshakable feeling that this was the last day of his life. The river flowing there, not knowing a thing about him. That he'd let a bastard like Axel van de Graaf dictate his life.

    He could give everything as a reason.

    He was further from everything than ever.


There were no taxis in Ratanak, the girl at the desk said. If he wanted to go somewhere he could take the hotel shuttle bus. He'd just missed it; the next one would leave in forty-five minutes. If he didn't want to wait he'd have to walk, or take a scooter-taxi.

    "But I wouldn't recommend it, not if you value your life."

    "I don't value my life," he said.

    His shoes hurt, his head hurt, his mouth was dry as he crossed the dusty plain between the hotel and the Presidential Palace. It was like walking through a desert. He'd have to buy a hat.

    In the middle of the plain was a fountain with people around it. A wedding party, he saw when he got closer, with bright parasols; a young bride in a white gown with train, a groom in white tails, both trimmed with red ribbons and rosettes, were posing at the fountain's edge, surrounded by laughing family members clicking cameras. Egon took a picture, too, and the couple gave him a shy, proud smile. The fountain was dry.

    Exhausted, his whole body hurting, he reached the palace. Behind the fence was an enormous portrait of Sophal. There were a few tourists. You could visit the palace, and he would, but first he had to get a car. He took a few pictures, then crossed to the streets on the other side of the palace grounds. The apartment buildings there were blackened, neglected to the point of collapse, the verandas spilling over with upturned tables and loose sheets of corrugated iron; brown stripes ran down the walls, as though they too served as drains—but the shadow they threw was divine. He'd wondered how he would recognize the scooter-taxis, but they recognized him; two, three riders were already stopping in front of him. He shooed them away; he had to drink something first.

    Along a thoroughfare he found a kind of café, a shop with a few tables and chairs on the sidewalk, beneath a corrugated iron awning. From inside came the sounds of a television set, the battle cries of little children murdering each other at a video game. He drank three beers, one after the other.

    Just as it occurred to him that he hadn't seen the man in the white hat for a while, he noticed another café-like establishment across the street, find a Western woman sitting under the awning there, alone, just like him. The successor to the man in the white hat? Nonsense; if anyone was keeping an eye on him, it would be a Ratanakirian. It was actually comforting to see that woman there; it meant he wasn't completely alone after all.

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