18 March 2010

Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill

by Dimitri Verhulst

Allen and Unwin. Romance, Adult Other. Paperback rrp $24.99

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Young Madame Verona, a renowned beauty, comes to live with her husband the composer, Mr Potter, in the ‘increasingly isolated village’ where they ‘inhabited the most isolated house’ high on a hill. The day Potter discovered he had cancer he went home and started cutting and stacking firewood. He cut every dead tree found on and around his property, and piled it all around the house till he considered it was enough to last Verona till the end of her life. After they made love, he went and hanged himself from a tree in the yard, unwilling to succumb to the humiliation of a wasting, dependent body. Not wanting to live without her beloved, Verona, a woman who has attracted dogs to her all her life, sits in the snow with her latest stray in the hope of freezing to death. But fortunately there are unfinished things awaiting her attention before she departs years later in this way at the age of eighty-three.
The main story is about this life, filled with love till the last breath, the strength to endure, and the making of a cello. It is all the other stories, the lives of the surrounding people of the area and each one’s incredible way of surviving that forms the bricks and mortar that holds together this beautiful and moving piece of work. These are included within the main frame like singular stories.

All the unique characters in this book have been precisely constructed and the perfect prose is unforgettable. Humour and passion is woven into the ordinary lives of the mainly male cast which transforms them into extraordinary individuals beneath the masterful manipulation of the writer.

The descriptions of the surrounding forests and rivers, the snow, the isolation and the way the natural world is regarded and protected, puts the reader right into the story with all their senses awakened. Finely crafted and superbly translated from the Dutch by David Colmer, this is a book not to be missed.

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