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Louis-Paul Boon: De Kapellekensbaan (Chapel Road)

Boon clearly has no reverence for the traditional novel, as this novel is full of fun and games, as well as traditional novel-telling. In his introduction, Boon tells us that the novel is about Ondine, her brother, Valeer, and Oscarke, whom she will marry, right at the end. But, he tells us, it is also about the rise of socialism and, indeed, it is. And about a lot of other things. On the one hand we have the story of Ondine who nominally lives in the mid-19th century but does seem to jump about. Then there is the story of some of the current denizens of Chapel Road – the author himself (he is also a character), the journalist Johan Jansens, the painter Tippetoje, Msieu Colson of the Ministry, Mr. Pots and their other drinking companions. These characters discuss art and politics (and women). We also have the story of Reynard the Fox and Isengrinus the Wolf which, of course, is about cunning and treachery and cynicism and the basic stupidity and greed of men.

All of these stories weaved together may seem confusing and so they are, but deliberately so. The Ondine story – somewhat (but only somewhat) Rabelaisian in tone – is mixed in with the history of socialism in Flanders (and Boon’s commentaries on this). All the stories have the author freely commenting and, in some cases, being a character himself. Confusing? Yes. Chaotic? Certainly but Boon gives us a cynical portrait of Belgium from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century.

Publishing history

First published in 1953 by Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam
First English translation 1972 by Twayne
Translated by Adrienne Dixon