This time of year is the season of winter storms in Europe and everybody living in coastal areas of the North Sea can certainly tell you a thing or two about it. The two biggest storm catastrophes of the twentieth century happened in the Netherlands on 31 January 1953 and in Hamburg on 16 February 1962. Both times cyclones caused huge tidal surge which broke dikes and cost the lives of thousands of people. A novel dealing with the flood disaster in the Netherlands and its impact on the lives of the surviving is The Storm by the Dutch writer Margriet de Moor which I chose for today’s review.
Margriet de Moor was born as Margaretha Maria Antonetta Neefjes in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, in November 1941. After her piano and vocal art studies she was a classical singer until she returned to university to study art history and archaeology in the late 1970s. Her career as a writer began only in 1988 when she published a much acclaimed collection of narratives which was followed by a book containing three novellas. Her debut novel was First Gray, Then White, Then Blue (Eerst grijs dan wit dan blauw: 1991) and it was an immediate as well as huge success. Her other works available in English are The Virtuoso (De Virtuoos: 1993), Duke of Egypt (Hertog van Egypte: 1996), The Kreutzer Sonata (Kreutzersonate: 2001), and The Storm (De Verdronkene: 2005). Margriet de Moor lives in Bussum, The Netherlands.
The opening scene of The Storm is set in Amsterdam on the morning of 31 January 1953. Lidy is about to leave for the small town of Zierikzee which is a drive of several hours to the South. Actually, her sister Armanda is expected there for the birthday party of her godchild, but on a whim Armanda talked Lidy into going in her place. The sisters are almost as like as two peas. Lidy is twenty-three and married Sjoerd after she got pregnant inadvertently. Armanda is twenty-one, shy and a bit jealous of everything her older sister has, including Sjoerd on whom she has a crush. When Lidy arrives in Zierikzee, the storm has already increased considerably although nobody is worried yet. After the birthday party she retires to her room, but soon is roused from sleep because a dike-reeve needs a car and wants to borrow hers. On the spur of the moment she decides to accompany him and unknowingly heads for the centre of the disaster which is looming and in which she will drown after a long and desperate fight for survival. In Amsterdam Armanda and Sjoerd are at a party that night and completely ignorant of the horrors lived in the South. Only the next morning the damage becomes gradually known. Day after day passes and Lidy is still missing. The worries of her family change into grief as the hopes to find her alive shrink. Meanwhile Armanda takes care of her small niece and also of her brother-in-law. Before soon Nadja regards Armanda as her mother and when Lidy is declared dead after two years it seems only natural to everybody that she marries Sjoerd. On her wedding day she feels like she were continuing her sister’s instead of her own life and continues to do so ever after.
The Storm is divided into five major parts which – with the exception of the final “Respensorium” – are each composed of eight and six titled chapters respectively. An omniscient third-person narrator tells the stories of Lidy and Armanda alternately which always implies a certain change of perspective. Despite all the lives of the sisters remain interweaved by memories and thoughts regarding the other. The short and thrilling period of Lidy’s fight for survival during the flood is set against the long and rather ordinary existence of Armanda in well-ordered circumstances. In the moment of death the two story lines merge. Margriet de Moor’s style and plot seem elaborate to me although I believe that it would have given the novel more depth and power if she had more than just outlined Armanda’s and the whole family’s life after the tragic events of January/February 1953. The Dutch author’s language is powerful and rich in impressive images. I’d even call it poetic in a certain way, but then I know only the German translation.
Reading The Storm by Margriet de Moor has been an interesting and instructive pleasure as well as a sad and moving experience. And of course I highly recommend the book!