The Twin, Paperback
4 out of 5 (6 ratings)


When his twin brother dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return to the small family farm.

He resigns himself to taking over his brother's role and spending the rest of his days 'with his head under a cow'.

After his old, worn-out father has been transferred upstairs, Helmer sets about furnishing the rest of the house according to his own minimal preferences. 'A double bed and a duvet', advises Ada, who lives next door, with a sly look.

Then Riet appears, the woman once engaged to marry his twin.

Could Riet and her son live with him for a while, on the farm?"The Twin" is an ode to the platteland, the flat and bleak Dutch countryside with its ditches and its cows and its endless grey skies.

Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, as seen through the eyes of a farmer, "The Twin" is, in the end, about the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one's own hands.

It chronicles a way of life which has resisted modernity, is culturally apart, and yet riven with a kind of romantic longing.




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Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.

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Review by

There may be a bright blue sky on the colour, but for me this book was redolent only of cold, grey, miserable days. I don't want to read about an ageing man struggling to wash his octagenarian father and to put him on the lavatory. That is probably a failing on my part, after all this is very much a part of day to day reality for many many people who find themselves caring for elderly parents, and as such it is probably something that literature should draw to our attention. Whether it is equally necessary for literature to be obsessed my male characters studying their private parts is less clear to me, though again that probably just reflects my prudishness and, to be fair, whilst there are two or three mentions of this nature they are only brief. I probably have a very old fashioned sense of what should or should appear in a work of fiction, preferring attention to focus on either big issues, big drama or gentle entertainment rather than on the mundane realities of our lives and the bodies in which we live them.The Financial Times said that 'The Twin' "could so easily be a bleak tale of regret" but thanks to the writer's skill it actually contained much "humour". I am afraid that for me it was very much "a bleak tale of regret". J. M. Coetzee also used the word "humour" in connection with this book, which suggests two things to me, one that humour is indeed subjective, and two that I have probably been right in my previous assumptions that I would not enjoy the writing of J. M. Coetzee.Why do serious reviewers lavish such high praise on some of the most desolate novels ever written? Have they been spending time with the many music critics who heap adulation on compositions that sound like an accident in a blacksmith's workshop? In the case of this particular book a more appropriate musical analogy would be to a string quartet with minimalist tendencies.This one just wasn't for me.

Review by

Helmer runs his farm situated in the Dutch Platteland while also caring for his dying father. Now in his sixties Helmer, lost his twin brother when they were in their teens, his brother being his father's favoured son and the one destined to take on the farm. Helmer sought an academic future, but at the loss of his brother his father gave him no choice but to take on the farm.Helmer relates the time spent caring for his distant father and the farm, his association with his neighbours and their two young boys, the period he takes on a young lad to help around the farm ,and as he looks back to his friendship with a young farmhand in his father employ. We follow Helmer as he moves from being a man who had no choice to approaching the possibility of being his own master.The Twin is a beautiful story about a basically lonely man. There are no great dramas here, no cliff-hangers, with perhaps the exception of one brief episode, it is simply a gentle yet captivating tale; a most enjoyable read.

Review by

A spare quiet story of an ordinary man, a farmer who feels he was put into his way of life by external circumstances that he no control over. His twin brother died when they were young men, so he ended up taking over the family farm, although he had planned to become educated at a university, and had only recently started his studies. Now it is 35 years later. His father is dying and lives, neglected, in the same house with only his son for company, who seems to hate him in a quiet sort of benign way. For awhile, much of the book, there is a dark undercurrent but it gradually eases, I suppose as he finally very slowly starts to find his way around his own life.

Review by

“I’ve been doing things by halves for so long now. For so long, I’ve had just half a body. No more shoulder to shoulder, no more chest to chest, no more taking each other’s presence for granted. Soon I’ll go and do the milking. Tomorrow morning I’ll milk again. And the rest of the week, of course, and the next week. But it’s no longer enough. I don’t think I can go on hiding behind the cows and letting things happen. Like an idiot.” (212)The Twin, set in the Dutch Platteland, is a meditative novel, sparsely but beautifully written. Helmer, middle-aged twin brother of Henk, oversees the family farm, with only his elderly, bedridden father for company. Henk, always the preferred son, died tragically at eighteen years old; and Helmer subsequently stepped into his dead brother’s shoes, but at great personal cost. His relationship with his father, fractured by tragedy, remains fraught with resentment and contradiction. Unexpectedly, Helmer receives a letter from Henk’s former fiancé, Riet. Her motives for reconnecting are not entirely clear, but for the first time since Henk’s death some forty years earlier, change is breathed into Helmer’s life.Bakker’s gift, I think, is in the spare and deceptively simple prose, which he uses to explore stirring and complex relationships. His language creates such an intimate sense of place, that I could not help but be drawn in:“Back on the street, I smell the wood fire from the smokehouse. I buy a pound of eel, which the fishmonger rolls up in old newspaper and puts in a plastic bag. Then I carry on along the waterfront. There’s a gallery near the English Corner. The soapstone statues on the shelves along the wall are beautiful, especially to the touch, but I am still thinking of a painting. I head back to the middle of town.” (64)Highly recommended!

Review by

I started to read this book for the most absurd reason: I was for sentimental reasons interested in the garden plants that are commonly grown in Frisia (I know, how improbable) and learning in an interview the writer is a gardener by profession and mistakenly understanding in the same interview that the place of the book was Frisia, I decided to take a look at it. I was immediately captivated by its sober language. I had never read a book written by a Dutch (this was actually another reason I wanted to read this one) and I suspect that his nationality has a lot of influence in Mr. Bakker's writing style. I found it a wonderful change to the more florid tradition of British literature that I love so much, but sometimes can be a little overbearing (I'll not mention all those Booker prize winners). The book place is not Frisia indeed, but the countryside near Amsterdam, and Bakker is quite understandably tired of thinking of garden plants so he hardly ever mentions any member of the vegetable kingdom. To my surprise and delight, he does mention a lot of birds, I strongly suspect him to be a fellow bird-watcher, but these are only minor details. More importantly, this is a beautifully written book with a subtly universal story. Superficially it tells the story of a man called Helmer, who is a farmer. He is middle-aged and has lived a very boring life, very different than the one he would have chosen to live had he had a choice. He is taking care of his father's property and literally waiting for the old man to die. Helmer had an identical twin who died when he was a young man, hence the title of the book.Under the surface, however, it is a story about that universal experience of coming of age and growing to become full human beings that we all must face, which is the instance (or the many such instances we will go through in our lives) when we will choose (or be forced) to become what we wish to (must) become instead of the son/daughter our parents wanted or dreamed us to be, much to their chagrin, but quite often also to our own. This is a subtle and painful point that Bakker catches so well. Helmer's twin was the perfect son is father loved and for whom he had great expectations. Helmer himself oscillates between resentment and love of his brother, often himself thinking of his brother as a better version of himself. However the twin dies, and his father will have to replace him with Helmer, the son he has, not the son he wished he had. The power of this book is the universality of this experience, in other words, we all have a twin brother who died about the time we reached adulthood and we will all have to face for many years the consequences of our twin's death and learn to overcome the natural resentment against our parents' nostalgic attitude towards their beloved dead son/daughter and their often resentful attitude towards who we have become and for some of us their inability to love us the way we are. The beauty of "The Twin" lies in great part in the unraveling process of coming-of-age of a man at the age of fifty, because, even if we often forget it, we will go on growing and evolving all through our lives and that process that begins as we are born may have very different speeds at different times of our lives but only stops completely on that final day. With the approaching dead of his father, Helmer finds his own growth accelerating considerably. In this sense Mr. Bakker is a genius because it is truly difficult to come up with a compelling story of coming-of-age beyond the age of 20, as you'll find in the literature dedicated to such subject. This is a rare gem indeed. To finish I would like to thank the author for having made the courageous and politically incorrect choice of writing a closeted book. I know that Mr. Bakker is an out-of-the-closet kind of man and the story of Helmer is really about the difficulty most gay men face of not having their sexuality accepted by their families. This is obvious for anyone who can read between the lines, after all Helmer's twin had a girlfriend, but Helmer only has a few "fishy" male friends, highly suspicious. However is by making this point so subtle that the book gains most of its strength (this is my way of avoiding to use the word universality again). I'm sure Bakker's bank account is at least as happy as I am about that choice, after all had the subject of the book been more explicit, not only I, but most of its reader's would have been unable to identify with it. For anyone willing to criticize this choice, I'll remind you that a gay men is 99.9...% (I'm unsure how many 9 should go here, but quite a lot I'd guess) the same as any other man, and only the prejudices of our society turn such a small detail as sexual orientation into such a big deal. After all I'm sure it shouldn't be so different to have to hear your parents regretting how you did not become a doctor as to hear them regret how you didn't marry that nice girlfriend you had in high school, if you exclude the shameful virulence homophobic attitudes can reach.

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