‘Masterpiece’ of emotions shows humor and grief

Music and psychoanalysis are guiding forces for Anna Enquist, an author who has in the last few years emerged as a dynamic voice on the Dutch literary scene. The author’s novel «Masterpiece,» is available in Greek, translated by Ino van Dyke-Balta and published by Diigisi Editions. The book is a thorough study of family ties and relationships a la Bergman, with combinations of humor and grief. Enquist belongs to a wave of contemporary extroversion through which Dutch literature has successfully entered international markets. In Greece alone, a number of works have been translated already, including those of Harry Mulisch, Leon de Winter, Marek van der Jagt, Magriet de Moor and, of course, Cees Nootebook. Enquist recently shared some thoughts with Kathimerini. To what degree has psychoanalysis helped you in writing literature? During the years of training and practicing psychoanalysis it becomes a way of thinking that is difficult to «turn off.» In analysis it is important to develop the story of the patient, so that as an analyst you become alert to the narrative. It is also a discipline in which you get a certain respect for trivialities, for the small things in life that tell so much. Quite another thing is the fact that you have to be patient in analysis, work hard and regularly, and wait a long time for results. You meet the same things when you are writing a book. In «The Masterpiece,» there is more than one central character. In the beginning, you gave the impression that you would focus on Lisa, but later on Ellen, Johann, Oscar and Alma all acquire central roles in the novel. Did you aim at creating a galaxy of personal dramas in order to reveal the relativity of happiness and order? My aim in writing this novel was to shed a new light on «Don Giovanni,» Mozart’s opera, so I had to borrow his characters. That compelled me to have at least six main characters. Lisa is Leporello, Ellen is Elvira and so on. I have always been uneasy with the libretto of this opera, by Lorenzo da Ponte, and for this book I studied the music, to see what Mozart had to say about the protagonists. The music led me to some important changes in the relations between the characters. In my book Donna Anna became Don Giovanni’s mother, the Commendatore his father and Don Ottavio his brother. The way you wrote about Ellen’s bereavement and grief period was particularly moving. Is loss a passage of ritual for every individual? In other words, do we have to experience severe pain in order to move on? No, I don’t think so. Really traumatic loss weakens you and it takes a lot of energy to try to move on. Perhaps lesser forms of loss can make you more susceptible to the feelings of others, and more complete as a human being, but the loss of a child can only harm you. Another memorable scene is when Alma visits the hairdresser. Is the need to please and be pleased a constant need regardless of age? It is, at any age, one of the ways to keep our self-esteem in balance. In Alma this need to please seems unexpected and overdeveloped, because she normally has a hold on people by intimidating them and being rude. Johann’s relationship to his father touches upon role models and expectations. Can an absent father influence to that degree an adult’s life? Yes, I think so. Perhaps even more than a father who is present. Johann is not relating to his real father, but to a father that he composed and fantasized himself. Reality gives him no opportunity to check his expectations or bring his nightmares to rest. Oscar is also a very complex character with an equally complex sexual identity. Does he feel hatred and resentment or an extreme need to be accepted? I think he feels both. He is extremely jealous of his successful brother, but he also loves him and wants to be close to him. Which of your characters in «The Masterpiece» is your favorite and why? Ellen is my favorite, because I «rescued» her from the role she has in the opera. In da Ponte’s text she is a hysterical female, but listening to the arias Mozart wrote for her I realized that she is a strong and compassionate woman. I tried to give her that character in my book. Where do you live and is writing your central vocation? I live in Amsterdam. Since 2000 writing has been my main occupation, although I have a small private psychotherapy practice on the side. Prior to that, I worked for many years as a staff member in the Dutch psychoanalytic institute. Do you want to talk about the book you may be writing now? At the moment I am still giving lectures about my last book, which came out last year. It is an historical novel about Captain James Cook and his wife. Do you feel part of the contemporary Dutch literary scene? I feel a bit of an outsider. I do not want to belong to any «school.» On the personal level, I have quite a few longstanding friendships with Dutch poets and writers, but the way they write is not an issue in those friendships. Why do you think Dutch writers are so widely translated in recent years? It may be that Holland has a unique institution in the Dutch Foundation for Literature and Translations. The people who work there travel around a lot and bring Dutch books to the attention of publishers around the world. Which writers – regardless of time or nationality – have served as inspiration for your work? The Austrian writer Thomas Bernard, Vladimir Nabokov and Ruth Rendell. Detective stories are perfect material for learning how to introduce characters and how to spread cues.

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