The Discomfort of Evening is narrated by Jas, a ten year-old girl who lives on a dairy farm with her parents and siblings in a northern village in the Netherlands. Her brother dies after falling through ice while skating, and the family begins to fall apart as her parents become depressed, first over the death of a son, then over the loss of their entire herd during the foot and mouth outbreak. Jas tries to make sense of these events and deal with them through a series of uncomfortable rituals.
Without doubt, this is the strangest novel I have ever read, but also one of the most beautiful thanks to the poetic nature of the prose. The subject matter is uncomfortable and upsetting in many places, covering topics such as sexual experimentation, incest, and animal cruelty. As such, it is definitely not a read for the faint-hearted or easily offended.
A few things I really liked: I loved the narrative voice of Jas, and her childlike way of thinking. I also loved the imagery and scene-setting description that is abundant throughout. The way Rijneveld shapes the main characters and brings them to life was also brilliant.
What I didn’t like: Some of the scenes involving animal cruelty were difficult for me to read. I’m an animal lover so these bothered me more than some of the other difficult themes.
It’s worth noting that this novel, Rijneveld’s debut, recently won the 2020 International Booker Prize. I would recommend it, but I would first reiterate that it is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.