My second of two posts for the read-along of The Discovery of Heaven organized by Iris on Books for the Month of Dutch Literature. This post refers to the book’s last two sections: The Beginning of the End and the End of the End.

Previously on The Discovery of Heaven…

An Angel is assigned to create a human that would restore the 10 Commandments to Heaven. Through careful planning and a few subtle pushes here and there he manages to get the right man to get the right woman pregnant. Ada, the mother to be, has a car accident which puts her in a coma for the rest of her pregnancy, when she gives birth to a boy, Quinten.

That’s where we left off. In this second half, Ada’s grieving husband Onno desperately accepts the offer of his best friend Max (the only one who know he’s actually Quinten’s biological father) to raise his child with Ada’s grandmother, with whom Max has started an affair. Quinten grows up among a group of eccentrics who unknowingly give him some of the knowledge and skills he needs to fulfill his life’s purpose.

(Now that I summarize it in only two paragraphs it even sounds more like a telenovela than before :))

(Sancta Sanctorum, Florence – credits)

It took me about two months to read this book, although I alternated it with lighter stuff. It’s not a light read and it has a lot of ideas to be digested. Mulisch has my respect, this is a very intelligent piece of literary art and I’ve learned a lot from it, but I’m afraid it left my heart a bit cold. I’m actually not sure Mulisch wanted us to feel warmly towards his characters or the book in general. Maybe he preferred us to to admire his intellect instead. That said, I felt partial to Onno, but I might have been influenced by seeing Stephen Fry play him in the movie. Who can resist Stephen Fry?

The last quarter – The End of the End – was by far my favorite part. Was I the only one thinking that Harry Mulisch is a sort of brainy Dan Brown.. or that Dan Brown is a lowbrow Harry Mulisch? And I don’t mean it as an insult!

The scenes where Quinten and Onno put the pieces of the puzzle together were exciting and the pace was perfect to build up the discovery. I had my computer around as I read to be able to research references and places. I also got a kick out of seeing how incidents that happened of 500 pages before were so important in helping Quinten achieve his goal. For instance, the neighbour who taught Quinten to open locks and the accidental conference in Cuba that forced Onno to give up politics. I even think Onno had a stroke just so could leave a cane behind.

Some final random thoughts:

  • The lack of fleshed-out feminism characters was even more noticeable in this last half. It made me want to read Mulisch’s other books and see it they’re always his Achilles’ heel
  • I loved the first description of Florence. It matches precisely what I thought when I first visited:
Maybe it was the sound of its name, Florence, that made him expect the town would be even more silvery and silent. But he found himself in a noisy, stinking cauldron of traffic that he had forgotten after five days in Venice. The function of the sea, which protected Venice sufficiently, was here fulfilled by the thick walls, colossal blocks of stone, bars, buildings like fortresses; the beauty was virtually only in doors, in palaces and museums.
  • I’m still not sure what to think of the ending.

Iris, thank you so much once again for organizing the Month – is it something you’ll be doing again next year?

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