A review of

Summer in Termuren

by Louis Paul Boon

Central question: Is there a bitterness to your laughter?
Format: 489 pp., paperback; Size: 6" x 9"; Price: $14.95; Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; Editor: John O’Brien; Print run: 5,600; Book design: Clinton Inselmann; Typeface: Granjon; Representative sentence: “And he took a wallet from his inside pocket (not a leather one, but an imitation leather one... because that was another characteristic of the modern age: everyone had everything, but everything was imitation—and something else: people had once laughed at the alchemists for wanting to make one thing into something else, but now everyone thought it the most normal thing in the world)...”

Between the electrodes of humor and doubt flows the current of satire. One of literature’s more perishable devices, this setup usually fizzles when the object of mockery sheds its markings or seeps into banality. But what if the satirist directed his energies inward as well as outward? What if, as befits one schooled in the tenets of modernism, one placed the accent on the delivery rather than the punch line?

Published in 1953, Chapel Road, by the Belgian writer Louis Paul Boon (1912-1979), introduced most of the characters that would later populate his masterpiece, Summer in Termuren, which appeared three years later. Chapel Road demonstrated Boon’s ability to tell a story while playing with the conventions of linear narrative. In following the events of the uncapitalized ondine’s (none too enviable) journey to adulthood, Boon tasks himself with describing the economic conditions that alter her community, from exploitative industrialism to tepid socialism, which isn’t too different from what came before. Puncturing this less than rigorous foray into the socioeconomic history of a hamlet are a gang of friends who make life difficult for boon, a character in the novel trying to write ondine’s story. Their comments, suggestions, and anecdotes—not too mention boon’s thought bubbles—scramble any attempt at sticking to a kempt tale, which, of course, is satire in itself.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Christopher Byrd

Christopher Byrd is a frequent contributor to the magazine.

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