Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
It is announced that Jesus Christ is to visit Belgium in a few weeks time, on its national day, the 21st of July. Coincidentally, our narrator’s mother dies and his marriage ends. Feeling very low, and fluctuating between resentment, irony and cynicism, he reports on the events and on the behaviour of his compatriots. The authorities squabble about how to receive Christ. They find an eleven-year-old girl in the asylum seekers’ centre to act as Christ’s Aramaic interpreter (Arabic, Aramaic, it’s practically the same, right?). Neighbours resolve ancient feuds and communities gather together to confess and forgive en masse, no matter the depravity of the crime. As the date draws near, the whole city brightens up – there’s never been a nicer time to have a Second Coming.
This new novel by Dimitri Verhulst resembles a quirky pamphlet and a moral fable. The narrator considers himself part of the ‘lost generation’, which has no illusions about the state of the world – both in absurd Belgium and in the distressingly imperfect world beyond. He puts a finger on the symptomatic fever blisters of contemporary society, of the so-called ‘malcontent mass’. With his bizarre imaginings, harsh criticisms and stylistic verve, he exposes an embarrassing reality, which often makes you laugh conspiratorially, and then cry.
About the Author
Born in Belgium in 1972, Dimitri Verhulst is the author of a collection of short stories, a volume of poetry and several novels, including Problemski Hotel which was translated into English in 2003. All his books are widely translated in Europe and receive a lot of critical praise.
This short novel is a funny cynical story about the return of Christ, in which Verhulst mocks his fellow country men. The title refers to the monumental painting by James Ensor portraying an absurd diseased society. Verhulst has a specific way of writing and his style is quite extraordinary.
Jesus Christ will visit Brussels and in the days leading towards this event Verhulst describes a Belgium in anticipation and a changing capitol where degradation slowly changes into citizens actually beginning to talk to each other! A media event which this city has never seen… This book is in fact a hilarious pampflet about society, written in beautiful prose. A tasteful book with lots of quirky remarks and sarcasm.
A moral fable about the metamorphosis in the behaviour of the people of Brussels on the eve of the Second Coming of Christ to the city.
Reviewer Jane Housham (Guardian): “We may think we excel at national self-flagellation but Verhulst’s sustained and blackly funny assault on the citizens of Brussels trumps all.” Another side of the EU capital.