I was searching on Amazon for something to read. As always, it bombarded me with an ocean of book titles whose promising summaries and expertly written reviews make it impossible to choose. After half an hour of unproductive browsing, a solution lightbulb flicked on inside my head. “I’m living in a new country, why not getting to know about its literature scene?” I Googled “Dutch novels“ as I thought, and a thread of results streamed down the screen. I clicked on bol.com (Dutch Amazon basically) and was directed to the best-selling books page. My eyes ran through a few titles before halting at The Dyslexic Hearts Club. When it comes to shopping for books, I usually trust my gut instinct. The concept of a heart being dyslexic definitely hooked me in. And after a few page flips, it got me all riveted. My guts once again bought me a worthwhile reading experience, so I decided to write a book review on it.
The Dyslexic Hearts Club revolves around three women with severe burns sharing a hospital room under 24-hour police guard. As friendships form and their stories are revealed, they soon realize they have to run for their lives. It sounds like a typical road novel, except that the runaway gang consists only women, which I consider an adoringly new angle.
What’s so special about this trio of burned chicks? Firstly, they are victims of a self-caused, non-natural accident. Secondly, they share the same trait of being unable to make sense of feelings. It’s not that they’re emotionally retarded. Their heart feels a lot, but it fails to process inputs meaningfully. They can’t read people.
‘A dyslexic heart,’ I said. ‘I can feel things, and everyone’s explained them to me time and time again, but somehow I can’t seem to get it all to make sense.’
The story is told from the viewpoint of Anna van Veen, an arsonist who set her cheating husband on fire and blew up their boat house. Savage, I know. However, this is not a crime committed in a fit of fury by a brokenhearted wife. She didn’t hold any grudge, even at the moment she flicked a burning match over her petrol-soaked life partner. She murdered him in a strangely cold manner. But that she hides from her running accomplices who also seem to have their secrets.
I adore Anna. Completely isolated, almost to a rude level, she sees things through her cynical lens. Nothing matters enormously to her, and that’s not big a deal too. I’m not saying such attitude to life is socially favorable, it’s unconventionally interesting to get to know.
‘I never saw the problem, but people always seemed to take offence at the fact that I didn’t want to tag along […] They would try to force me, make me join in the fun. I’ve never understood how that works, why people are so keen for you to join in when it’s the last thing in the world you want.’
Anna’s conversations with the other two are full of wit and vigor. They sarcastically address themselves as ‘three ladies off to find their inner selves on a hiking retreat’. They associate extravagance with hipsterism, disrespect master minds of conspiracy theory, and make cutting remarks about women’s ‘second nature’ of delivering emotional labor rather than focusing on their real thought. In other words, they’re a bunch of smart, jaded women.
‘You might think you’re playing the lead, the star of your own show, but when it comes right down to it you’re mostly just a bit player in other people’s lives.’
Mentally independent as she is, Anna eventually show signs of vulnerability in the occasions of danger pushed to limit. Hanneke Hendrix has been able to bring Anna’s introspective activities to life in a few visceral sentences that make our internals churn with empathy. Seeing the detached woman expose her insecurity attests to humans being permanently prone to group security and social redemption. We cannot be a standalone super human all the time.
‘Intense remorse spread like heartburn through my veins […] My stomach knotted, panic snatched at my breath […] I needed someone to forgive me.’
Story arc spanning across the novel gradually unfolds the trio’s secrets and surprising life details as their journey advances. Betrayal, rejection, violent abuse, and petty crimes are mentioned, enough to make you cringe. Other than that, if you’re expecting either a sweaty, life-threatening, temple-pulsing escapade or a spiritual, self-fulfilling journey, this novel is an adequate mix of both. Though none of them reaches a proverbial level.
The Dyslexic Hearts Club does not carry with it any advanced philosophy whose ‘now what’ aftereffect leaves you rethinking about all aspects of your life. It’s an entertaining, fast-paced tale of female bonding and black humor well worth a read.
English readers can buy its world edition from Amazon.