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Cees Nooteboom: Het volgende verhaal (The Following Story)

Herman Mussert goes to bed one night in Amsterdam and, when he wakes up, he finds that he is in a hotel room in Lisbon. He has no idea why or how he got there. He does know the room, as it where, twenty years previously, he had sex with another man’s wife. Indeed, it was the last time that he had sex. However, he cannot understand why he is there. Everything else seems normal. He has money and travellers cheques. When he orders breakfast, it is delivered. The book is divided into two parts. The first gives us the background to Mussert’s life and the second an explanation of why he is in the Lisbon hotel room.

Mussert has the misfortune to share a last name with the leading Dutch collaborator with the Nazis though is apparently no relation. He is a bachelor and has never been married. He used to teach classics at school but now writes guide-books under the pseudonym Dr. Strabo (the publishers did not think using the name Mussert would be a good idea). They have been very successful. Many of the details are freely stolen from other guide-books. He lives alone in a flat in Amsterdam with his cat, spending much of his spare time reading Latin and Ancient Greek works. Two key events happened at the school. The first was Lisa d’India, a very attractive and intelligent student. According to Mussert, all the men, except for him, were in love with her. His interest in her is purely because she shows an interest in the classics, a very rare occurrence. However, she is having an affair with the Dutch teacher (and basketball coach and amateur poet) whose wife is the red-headed biology teacher, Maria Zeinstra. Zeinstra, purely out of motives of revenge, starts an affair with Mussert and it is she with whom he has sex in Lisbon, while she is nominally at a conference and her husband nominally coaching basketball. Zeinstra continually abuses Mussert (she calls him meathead) but the affair continues more at her behest than his. Naturally, things go terribly wrong and he never sees her again.

The second part is a boat journey off the coast of Brazil, with all the passengers telling their stories, with Mussert’s being the concluding story and which explains why he suddenly found himself in Lisbon and the purpose of the boat journey. Both parts are told with Nooteboom’s great skill in telling a fascinating story, getting us right into the characters, even though their lives might be relatively mundane and keeping us enthralled to the end, even if we have guessed what is really going on. Once again he has produced a book that deserves to be much better known in the English-speaking world.

Publishing history

First published in 1991 by De Arbeiderspers
First published in English in 1994 by Harvill
Translated by Ina Rilke