I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt with you today from Saskia de Coster’s We and Me.
Saskia de Coster is an artist, playwright and broadcaster. She is the author of seven novels, which have been described as haunting, appealing and unforgettable. Her bestseller We and Me has won the Cutting Edge Award, the Opzij Literature Prize and has been nominated for the BNG-Literature Award, the Golden Owl, the AKO Literature Prize and the Libris Prize, and sold over 40,000 copies in the Netherlands and Belgium. Her work has been translated into ten languages.
A best seller in Belgium, We and Me is Saskia’s first book to be translated into English. It has been described as a literary ‘desperate housewives’ and the European answer to Jonathan Franzen. It’s a glimpse into the world of the rich elite and their cocooned lives in luxe suburban homes. Just as you might expect the shining exterior is not all as it seems.
Connect with Saskia de Coster
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: WORLD EDITIONS; 01 edition (19 May 2016)
On a private estate high in the hills close to Flanders lives the wealthy but strange Vandersanden family. The neurotic, aristocratic Mieke obsessively grooms her carpets whilst always keeping a close eye on her family and neighbours. Her husband, the self-made Stefaan, is building a career in a pharmaceutical company that is plagued by scandal. Meanwhile, daughter Sarah, overprotected by her parents and curious about ‘real life’, is seeking her own path – one that she hopes will bring an escape from the claustrophobic family dramas that surround her.
There are still a number of people in West Flanders who can tell the story of how Melanie brought her oldest son into the world at four o’clock in the morning. She had just enough time to wrap the little one in a sausage of linen and bind him to her bosom before relieving the lowing cows of their straining udders and spending the rest of the day working in the field. Stronger than a workhorse, that was Melanie.
During his first hours of life her oldest son filled his lungs with the moist stench of manure and the sour smell of barley gruel. Eighteen years later he turned his back on the farmer’s craft. Stefaan has worked his way up with an industriousness and drive he didn’t get from strangers. And now, at age forty, he’s a successful manager at a large pharmaceutical firm. He has a degree in medicine as well as an MBA from Wharton University hanging on the wall of his spacious office. He owns a villa that’s still echoing with newness in the housing estate on the mountain.
Stefaan looks exhausted. His cheeks are ashen, yet he’s beaming. His dark eyes sparkle, his smile is so wide it almost tears at the corners. Stefaan has been awake for twenty-four hours. Not as in ‘not sleeping’, not in a slumber setting like his mother. He’s as hyperactive as a talking clock. One hour ago he stormed out of the maternity ward of the Sacred Heart Hospital in search of a passing taxi, calling out euphorically to the honking cars. He would never do such a thing in a normal, sober condition, but what has happened here is a wonder of the world guaranteed to make the world instantly forget all its turmoil, all the nuclear warheads and iron curtains.
‘Oh, my God,’ Stefaan shouts exultantly from the living room. He stumbles over his own words. ‘So extraordinary, so unbelievable.’ He keeps repeating it, ad nauseam. He wants the whole world to share in the towering happiness that’s taken hold of him. Delirious with joy: that’s what it’s called. A man hugging the sky and momentarily forgetting the dark shadow. From now on, happiness will be on his side. He had already collected the outward signs: wealth and advancing status. Now there’s this new dimension to add to them. ‘So extraordinary,’ he keeps repeating while shaking his head.
‘Every birth is extraordinary,’ his mother sighs. Her mouth has moved. Words have come out. Four words. She spoke at least four words, one after the other, and she isn’t talked out yet. She goes on: ‘Extraordinary in its own misery.’ His inaccessible mother thinks he can put up with anything. All these years he has been reacting appropriately to her callousness: properly and submissively, because it was she who gave birth to him.
Saskia’s launch for We and Me is, I think you’ll agree, unusual.
She spent a year reading a page a day in unusual locations (including in hospital the day her daughter was born, and asking friends to read for her). You can see Ruby Wax trying to read a page in Flemish as part of the ‘project’ in the YouTube clip below: