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Gerard Reve's The Evenings | © Pushkin Press / Amazon.com
Gerard Reve's The Evenings | © Pushkin Press / Amazon.com
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Gerard Reve's Sardonic Classic 'The Evenings' Finally Translated Into English

Picture of Tom Coggins
Updated: 14 November 2016
Earlier this November Pushkin Press released the first English translation of Gerard Reve’s debut novel The Evenings (De Avonden). This timeless work of fiction follows the sardonic Fritz van Etgers as he traipses between a series of unremarkable nighttime rendezvous around Amsterdam – a humdrum odyssey that is spurned on by its protagonist’s insatiable boredom and nervous frustration.

Considering Reve’s reputation in the Netherlands, it is difficult to believe that his first and possibly most famous novel has remained untranslated for almost 70 years. For the Dutch, his name is synonymous with post-World War II literature and Reve quickly amassed a substantial following after the publication of The Evenings in 1947.

He believed that his first book would go completely unnoticed and was astounded by this sudden notoriety. Despite these reservations, something about Reve’s prose evidently appealed to Dutch audiences and the author went on to become a leading figure within his homeland’s literary scene.

Reve was 23 at the time and based the novel largely around his own experiences living in Amsterdam. Age or, more accurately, young adulthood is a constant theme throughout the work and Fritz, like his creator, is on the cusp of maturity – a prospect that terrifies him. To disguise his insecurities, Fritz scrutinizes others and frequently comments on his friends’ receding hairlines or ailing looks.

Gerard Reve in 1969
Gerard Reve in 1969 | © Joost Evers/The National Archives, The Hague

Unlike his companions, Fritz still lives with his parents. He spends his days working at an office, aimlessly filing documents for an undisclosed business, and then returns to his family home. Although he is restless, he rarely expresses any semblance of ambition and prefers distractions over commitment. To fill his spare time he meets with friends and exchanges irreverent, often macabre anecdotes, exposing an absurd sense of detachment.

These conversations, and Fritz’s biting inner monologue, drive the novel’s narrative, with most of its plot taking place inside small, suburban flats around Amsterdam. Nothing really happens during these excursions, yet Reve manages to draw out a hypnotizing tale by focusing on the overwhelming banality of Fritz’s daily routines and his last-ditch attempts to withdraw from the realities of adult life.