This May sees the release of an unforgettable novel from one of Belgium’s most acclaimed new writers, Saskia de Coster. We and Me, published by World Editions, is de Coster’s first English-language translation. It’s an addictive drama about the lives of a dysfunctional and bourgeois family who live on a private estate near the top of a mountain. Mieke Vandersanden, the neurotic and suspicious mother, obsessively grooms her carpets. Stefaan Vandersanden, her husband, is involved with a pharmaceutical company plagued by scandal. Their daughter Sarah (a contemporary Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary) is ever curious about what lies outside the walls of the estate, desperate to break free from her claustrophobic family and their drama.
Readers will be thrilled by the eccentric Vandersanden family, and will find plenty of escapism in the green hills of 1980s Belgium. A certain European-ness permeates the novel, which can only add to its appeal; fiction in translation is a growing trend among UK readers after the success of writers such as Elena Ferrante and the introduction of the International Man Booker prize; more readers than ever are now looking to discover exciting new voices from across the globe.
The book has been described as a cross between Desperate Housewives and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and is therefore sure to be met with an enthusiastic audience. ‘Great American Novels’ by writers such as Franzen, Dave Eggers and Jeffrey Eugenides remain a strong trend among UK fiction readers, and We and Me could quite easily be considered the European equivalent. De Coster names Franzen, A.M. Homes and Zadie Smith as authors who inspire her work, all of whom are hugely popular in the realms of contemporary fiction.
De Coster has already made a name for herself in Belgium. In 2014 she won the Opzij Literature Prize and was longlisted for others, including the Libris. We and Me was highly praised when it was published in Dutch, not only by critics but by established authors such as Herman Koch, who wrote of the book: “The Great Flemish Novel is not dead. It has just been written by Saskia de Coster. We and Me is a novel that will haunt me for a long time.” Author Tom Lanoye is also a fan, writing of de Coster: “For years the most stubborn, capricious and attractive pen of Belgium.”
With de Coster’s psychological insight, wit and fluency, we can expect similar praise in the UK for We and Me when it comes to UK audiences on 19 May.
- Bill Godber, M.D.
We and Me is published on the 19 May by World Editions (£11.99, 416pp, paperback, 9789462380615)