'Niemand keek omhoog' by Evelien Vos: Contemporary Slight Adventures
In her debut Niemand keek omhoog (No one looked up) Evelien Vos (b. 1987) recounts the seemingly banal life of her character, Lucy. But underneath a casual writing style there is a pressing question: to what extent can we control our expectations, let alone our lives?
If you were to look up this novel on the Goodreads website you would see a proof copy that has drawings of birds and the title Als ik een bad had (If I had a bath). The book that eventually appeared in print looks slightly different: instead, drawings of fish adorn the cover and it is called No one looked up.
Of course, it’s not unusual for covers and titles to change in the editing process, sometimes even shortly before going to print. But it demonstrates how publishers struggle to market new authors, especially at a time when shelf life is so short.
To be fair, readers will not really judge a book by its cover. But if not enough copies are sold in the first couple of months a book is likely to be shelved before the year is out. In this way, new authors are hardly given time to develop an audience. A first novel, such as the one discussed here, is at risk of going unnoticed.
And that is a shame, because Evelien Vos has written a refreshingly original debut novel, which continues in the clear and casual style she introduced in her earlier appraised collection of very short love stories, Zeer korte liefdes.
In Niemand keek omhoog (No one looked up), Evelien Vos relates Lucy’s story in short, pointed chapters. They seem like random snapshots: the man who helps her move house kissing her unexpectedly; her grumpy grandad who she visits on Saturday mornings; her bossy, domineering mother who grumbles that Lucy is wasting her life. Lucy’s life indeed seems banal, it all sort of happens to her. Even when she has a one-night stand, she doesn’t seem very involved.
She is a bystander in her own life, at a distance, like someone suffering from burnout or depression. Many scenes therefore are slightly sad but sometimes also very funny. While you shouldn’t expect any jollity from Lucy, her slightly sombre thoughts are often narrated by Vos in an upbeat way.
Everyday events seem to take her by surprise, yet Lucy is capable of deciding important matters, like moving to Madrid in search of peace and quiet. As a translator there she hopes to turn her life around, away from the preoccupations in her mind. She is only partly successful in this, as circumstances, her family and her few friends control her life more than she would want. Lucy keeps wandering, stumbling forward through life with no real plan or ambition.
Trying to get a grip
And still the story stays with you. Behind the light tone, and the seemingly random anecdotes, a deeper world is hiding. Evelien Vos is able to capture the relationships between characters in one spot-on sentence. No cigarette is ever smoked accidentally, no stool tumbles over just like that, in every scene there is more than meets the eye.
Vos’s writing style tends somewhat towards Carmiggelt’s writing; her contemporary slight adventures give us more than merely the story of an individual. Lucy’s story is the story of every searching twenty-, thirty-, or forty-something still trying, not very successfully, to get a grip on life.
Evelien Vos, Niemand keek omhoog, Van Oorschot, Amsterdam, 2019, 174 pp.
Read HERE some excerpts from Niemand keek omhoog, as translated by Paul Vincent.