The Discomfort of Evening, by author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and translator Michele Hutchison, was announced as the winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize at the end of August. A number of ‘firsts’ came with this announcement, as this is the first Dutch novel to win, the book is Marieke Lucas’ first novel and the author – at 29 years old – is the youngest author to ever win this prize.

The International Booker Prize is awarded annually for a single book, translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The vital work of translators is celebrated, with the prize money – £50,000 – being divided equally between the author and translator, who both get equal recognition. The 2020 prize was awarded for the author’s debut novel, a bestseller when it was first published in the Netherlands in 2018 (the Dutch title is: De Avond is Ongemak).

Marieke Lucas and Michelle, winners of the 2020 International Booker Prize

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and Michele Hutchinson

Spellbinding, dark book

It is a dark book that describes the world as seen through the eyes of 10-year-old Jas following a terrible tragedy – when her eldest brother goes skating, falls through the ice and dies – and the ensuing ways the different family members deal with grief given their religious background and rural farming environment as a backdrop. In part, the story mirrors that of the author, who grew up on a dairy farm and whose elder brother died in a tragic accident at an early age.

Breathtaking translation

The poetic language and distinct perspective of the book was skillfully translated by Michele Hutchison, who commented: “I really enjoyed the main character, Jas. I really like child narrators and the way they give you a new perspective on the world.” The author praises the translator in the nomination video on the Booker Prize website: “She did a fantastic job. It was quite complicated to translate the novel which had lots of poetry in it.”

The judging panel’s chair, Ted Hodgkinson, explained that the translator “answers the call of the artistic challenge with integrity and precision.” In his speech in which the winner was announced, he described the book by saying: “It is a work of spellbinding beauty, translated with truly breathtaking sensitivity.” He went on to say: “This is a novel with an undeniable force, by a writer of thrilling talent and ability. An unflinching look at the underbelly of family life, a tender and visceral evocation of the strangeness of a childhood caught between shame and salvation.”

The author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, a dairy farmer and prize-winning poet, expressed delight on winning by saying, “I am as proud as a cow with seven udders,” – and later emphasising on Twitter the joint achievement with a short comment: “We won!!!”

Their acceptance speech ended: “Today, when the world has been turned upside down and is showing its dark side, I often remember the words that were written above my desk – be relentless. So, write, win, lose, love each other, but be relentless in this.”

It is a work of spellbinding beauty, translated with truly breathtaking sensitivity

[Source: International Booker Prize]

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The Discomfort of EveningThe Discomfort of Evening

Author: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Translator: Michele Hutchison
(Faber & Faber, 2014) (link)

Carmel McNamara
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