TRUE TO HIS NAME, Gerard Reve fills his 1947 debut novel The Evenings with a series of dreams, nightmares, and daydreams — fantasies that have as much to do with the Nazi occupation of his native Holland as with his young narrator’s anxieties about life in the postwar years. Given the historical circumstances and what we know of Reve’s temperament, it’s no wonder that these dreams are accompanied by a certain cynicism, a pervasive discontent that, at least at first glance, could be said to border on the nihilistic.
Published when the author was 24 years old — and only now, after all these years, rendered into English by Sam Garrett — The Evenings kick-started a 50-year literary career. Reve’s works include novels as well as books that blur the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. Relatively unknown outside Holland, at home Reve is regarded as a key figure of post–World War II literature. But he was anything but an establishment figure. He was an out gay man who wrote openly and humorously about homosexual sex and the relationship between eroticism and religion and took every opportunity to épater la bourgeoisie et la bohème alike — appearing, for example, at a Dutch literary festival, wearing both a swastika and hammer and sickle around his neck, to read a poem many considered overtly racist. Born into a leftwing, atheist family, Reve ended up a Catholic convert and fervent anticommunist. But this did not secure him the favor of the authorities and the conservative forces in his home country, who prosecuted him for obscenity and blasphemy after he depicted one of his narrators making love to God (incarnated as a donkey).
London-based journalist and author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction; and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.